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Flammable building cladding - solution hits a snag in Australia

PETALING JAYA (April 10): The 2017 Grenfell fire literally exposed the lack of compliance to building safety standards, where flammable cladding has been identified as the cause of the rapid spread of the blaze. Since then, administrations in several countries have pushed for rectifications.

Among them, Australia’s Planning Minister Richard Wynne would like to believe that: “We are leading the world in terms of responding to this cladding issue”, reported the country’s The Age yesterday.

Citing work done by the Victorian Cladding Taskforce, set up in 2017, Wynne said it “had really exposed both the nature and the extent of the problem and what we need to do to fix it”.

The audit revealed up to 2,000 non-compliant buildings, of which 1,500 to 1,600 were private buildings.

Subsequently, in July last year, he initiated “new laws allowing owners of apartments with flammable cladding to pay off loans to repair them on their council rates”.

Instead of a “Hurrah! Well done!”, however, the announcement was greeted with dismay by residents of high-risk buildings because it meant they “had to foot the bill for removing combustible cladding, saying they couldn’t afford the unexpected cost”.

“People are saying they could be bankrupted or lose their homes - a lot of the single bedroom apartment owners are first time home buyers,” said Builders Collective of Australia President Phil Dwyer.

Instead, he said state governments should be removing and replacing the “dodgy material” state-wide and then claim the cost from the builders and surveyors responsible for it.

Dwyer said it does not make sense for apartment owners to foot out up to AU$120,000 (RM352,232) to replace combustible cladding when they were assumed to be safety-compliant upon purchase.

So far, Wynne’s office reported only the City of Melbourne had agreed to participate in the minister’s scheme.

In addition, Melbourne City Council will push the Australian Local Government Association’s national assembly in June to establish a relief fund to assist building owners forced to dig into their own pockets to address the flammable cladding crisis. The fund is proposed to provide grants and low or interest-free loans to expedite the rectification works.

Melbourne City Council said the cost is one of the main hindrances to solving the issue and the Commonwealth is best placed to help with the cost.

“All states and territories will be confronted with the need to address the issue of building cladding rectification … a nation-wide approach is needed,” the council said.

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