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Lacrosse tower fire risk cladding remains as residents move back

More than seven months since the November 14 blaze, residents are still living in the complex clad with highly flammable, potentially deadly material.

Industry experts say they are “alarmed” nothing has changed to reduce the fire risk at the 23-storey apartment tower and that residents have merely been moved back in to a building with exactly the same level of fire danger­ as prior to the blaze.

Eighteen fire-affected apartments remained cordoned off and uninhabitable. However, 285 other apartments are occupied. The cladding on the ­Lacrosse tower is the same type that has caused 66 deaths in apartment fires overseas and is so flammable the CSIRO had to abandon­ its testing of it for fear of damaging its equipment.

Fire Protection Authority Australia chief Scott Williams said that “little had changed at the Lacrosse building”.

“The same life safety risks posed by the non-compliant combustible cladding still exist, because it has not been removed or mitigated,’’ he said. “How can it be justified that the building is safe to be occupied? More than six months on from the fire, the community expects more.”

The tower was a joint development project by Pan Urban, owned by prominent publish­er and developer Morry Schwartz, and property funds manager Charter Hall.

An investigation into the fire by the Metropol­itan Fire Brigade found that sub-stand­ard external aluminium cladding was responsible for the rapid spread of the blaze and that it was non-compliant with Australian fire and safety standards.

Another industry expert accused regulators of “blame-shifting” over the fire while residents were still at heightened risk because­ of the external cladding.

Since the fire, the regulator, the Victorian Building Authority, has launched an invest­igation into the building of Lacrosse and the Melbourne City Council has issued “show cause” notices to apartment owners, warning they might be forced to foot the bill to replace the cladding.

Residents have until the end of next month to respond to the show-cause notice­. A VBA spokesman said he could not confirm when the invest­igation would be completed. Residents have been ordered also to move material off balconies, but it is understood many have failed to do so and have been subject to follow­-up demands.

The Metropolitan Fire Brigade has been placed on ­“enhanced response” in relation to the Lacrosse tower, which means twice the number of fire trucks will be sent to the building in the case of a fire.

However, industry experts have pointed out that the initial fire at Lacrosse only took 11 minute­s to spread up 13 floors, and said any other blaze at the site could still be catastrophic.


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