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170 inner-city towers to be audited for cladding fire risk

The Victorian Building Authority issued audit notices yesterday requiring builders and surveyors of more than 170 targeted towers built during the past 10 years to provide documentary evidence that the external aluminium cladding used on their projects was non-flammable and complied with the National Construction Code.

The builders and surveyors for each of the projects have been given 21 days to comply with the audit request or face prosecution.

It is understood the VBA has specifically asked for details of the type and brand of aluminium cladding used on the Melbourne buildings and will investigate its supply chain in a bid to identify other buildings around the country using the same material.

Residential and public buildings with more than four storeys and constructed in inner-city Melbourne between January 2005 and last month are the target of the audit.

The director of technical and regulations with the VBA, Jarrod Edwards, said while the specific buildings had not been identified as being non-compliant the regulator was taking a “risk-based” approac­h to the investigation to “satisfy itself that the types of cladding material used will not compromise the building’s continued safe occupation”.

The investigation comes amid widespread concern that Australia’s apartment boom has been fuell­ed in part by the illegal use of cheaply imported but highly combustible aluminium cladding from China, Taiwan and Korea.

It comes in the wake of last year’s Lacrosse tower fire in the high-density Docklands precinct, which was found to have been spread by the non-compliant use of highly flammable cladding.

Lacrosse apartment owners have been issued with rectifica­tion orders requiring them to rip out the non-compliant cladding and replace it at their own cost.

The flammable cladding is much cheaper than the compliant non-flammable cladding. Once installed, it looks identical to the non-flammable cladding and the difference can only be determined by an invasive test.

The cladding at the Lacrosse tower was so flammable the CSIRO had to abandon fire tests on it because of fears it would damage its equipment.

Industry experts say the use of flammable cladding has been extensive since 2010.

Ben Hardwick, of Slater and Gordon, who is investigating a legal claim on behalf of more than 100 Lacrosse apartment owners, welcomed the investigation but said for many apartment owners it was a case of “too little, too late”.

“A decision has been made by certain builders or developers to use a cheap product which is not safe (and is) highly combustible, with potentially dis­astrous consequences for apart­ment owners and residents, as we have seen at Lacrosse,” Mr Hardwick said.

“Builders of residential dwellings are obliged at law to ensure that the materials they use are suitable for the purposes for which they are used, and are used in accordance with the relevant regulations, including the Building Code of Australia. Apartment owners … may … have claims worth millions of dollars against builders for the costs of works required to replace their external walls with material that is safe.”


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