Daily Bulletin

News

  • Written by Geoff Hanmer, Adjunct Lecturer in Architecture, UNSW
The Conversation

Hundreds of residents in a Sydney apartment complex, the 122-unit Mascot Towers, were evacuated last Sunday when cracks began to appear due to a serious structural failure. And it isn’t clear when the residents can return.

This crisis echoes the structural failure at Opal Tower and its evacuation on Christmas Eve last year. We have seen a series of serious building failures and fires in recent years. And state and federal governments have had more than year to act on recommendations for better construction regulations, but instead they’re shifting blame.

Although each building failure was different, the end result is the same: misery for the residents and a looming financial disaster for the owners.

Read more: Flammable cladding costs could approach billions for building owners if authorities dither

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said:

We’re getting to the bottom of what happened. The NSW government will hold everybody to account, that’s our role.

But the government’s role is to regulate sufficiently to prevent building failures in the first place, not to hold people to account after the event.

Read more: Housing with buyer protection and no serious faults – is that too much to ask of builders and regulators?

Building regulations since the Great Fire of London

Prevention of construction failures has been the bedrock of building regulations ever since the Great Fire of London in 1666. In the aftermath, the English government realised there was not much use in raking through the ashes and trying to hold people to account, and that an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure. This led to the parliament passing regulations to prevent the spread of fire between buildings.

Governments all around the developed world took the lesson of the Great Fire to heart. Their common goal has been to proactively ensure buildings are constructed properly and are safe as a result.

This has been a pretty successful effort and most significant building failures since 1666 have contributed to a more comprehensive and effective regulatory regime.

Serious building failures appear to be more frequent

Prior to the Opal Tower emergency, there had been only one significant evacuation of a multi-unit residential building in NSW due to structural failure. That was a result of the 2009 gas explosion at Eastgate Towers in Bondi Junction.

However, depending on which research you read, either 72% or 97% of strata apartments suffer from serious defects when they’re finished.

There have also been a series of other problems with recent buildings. These include lead in water caused by imported brass plumbing components, non-complying imported electrical cables and failures in the installation of fire doors, fire walls and fire door frames.

Read more: Australia has a new National Construction Code, but it's still not good enough

Why has this happened?

The states progressively introduced the Building Code of Australia (now the National Construction Code) during the 1990s as part of an agreed plan between the states and the federal government to make building regulations less prescriptive.

The aim was to reduce the cost of construction by favouring “innovation” over conservative “deemed to satisfy” regulations. Innovation, in these terms, meant finding ways to make buildings cheaper to build.

This move coincided with the globalisation of the building materials supply industry and a boom in the construction of tall apartment buildings in Australia.

Some of the innovation has been innocuous, or even beneficial, such as the introduction of a variety of lightweight interior wall systems, but some have resulted in substantial remediation bills – combustible cladding being the prime example. Inspection and responsibility for the plethora of imported components is virtually non-existent.

Read more: Don't overlook residents' role in apartment building safety

The downstream cost of failure has landed squarely in the laps of the building owners, many of them owners of tall apartments.

It’s difficult to estimate the total bill for remedial works to tall apartment buildings built over the last 25 years, but it may well exceed the Productivity Commission estimates of savings resulting from the introduction of the National Construction Code.

Blame shifting and ineffective regulations

The federal minister responsible for building regulations, Karen Andrews, says the states are to blame.

And some states, including NSW, have resorted to tough talk about crackdowns on “dodgy” certifiers and “dodgy” builders. In reality, the problem is dodgy government regulation, by both federal and state governments.

The federal and state governments already have an initial plan for fixing these problems. The Shergold-Weir report was delivered to the Building Ministers’ Forum in February 2018.

As the report said:

After having examined the matters put to us, we have concluded that the nature and extent [of building defects] are significant and concerning. The problems have led to diminishing public confidence that the building and construction industry can deliver compliant, safe buildings which will perform to the expected standards over the long term.

Since then, state and federal governments have done almost nothing to implement the recommendations of the report, despite the 2018 Christmas Eve failure at Opal and the fire at Neo200 in Melbourne the following February.

The report itself states:

The recommendations have been designed to form a holistic and structured framework to improve the compliance and enforcement systems of the [National Construction Code] across the country. They form a coherent package. They would best be implemented in their entirety.

In NSW, the published response to Shergold-Weir is a patchwork focusing on holding people to account after a building construction event. This is the reverse of the proactive approach developed following the Great Fire of London.

Read more: Beyond Opal: a 10-point plan to fix the residential building industry

The NSW government is set to appoint a building commissioner to oversee qualifications and to review building documentation.

But this will likely not achieve much, unless the government commits to upskilling workers throughout the industry and backs up desktop audits by increasing direct inspections on site. Neither of these things appears to be part of its plan.

All governments must take an active role in fixing the defective regulatory regime they have created. If they can’t get on with this process in a timely way, we will need yet another royal commission to sort it out.

The least Premier Berejiklian can do is to treat the Mascot Towers and Opal events in the same way the government treats natural disasters and provide housing assistance to residents who have been displaced through no fault of their own.

Authors: Geoff Hanmer, Adjunct Lecturer in Architecture, UNSW

Read more http://theconversation.com/buck-passing-on-apartment-building-safety-leaves-residents-at-risk-119000

BEST COMMUNITIES TO BUY APARTMENTS IN DUBAI IN 2021

arrow_forward

Easy ways to improve your company car park

arrow_forward

World leading Aussie sun safe clothing brand, SParms, sponsors PGA Legends Tour

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Business News

World leading Aussie sun safe clothing brand, SParms, sponsors PGA Legends Tour

SParms signs historic agreement with the PGA of Australia to take on the naming rights sponsorship of the PGA Legends Tour for two years. With more and more people picking up golf clubs over the ...

Tess Sanders Lazarus - avatar Tess Sanders Lazarus

Sole Trader Versus Partnership: Which Should You Choose?

In Australia, there are a few main business structures businesses can register to operate legally in the country. The two most common structures are sole trader and partnership. These structures a...

NewsServices.com - avatar NewsServices.com

How to Make a Great Promo Video

Promo videos are a crucial part of any business’s marketing strategy. Great promo videos help to increase brand visibility, improve your SEO, increase conversions, are easily shareable, and do wel...

NewsServices.com - avatar NewsServices.com