Thousands of low-rise Australian apartment blocks at risk of Grenfell-style fire, Senate inquiry warned

Sydney Morning Herald

JULY 19 2017

Eryk Bagshaw

 

Thousands of low-rise Australian apartment blocks at risk of Grenfell-style fire, Senate inquiry warned

 

 

Warnings have been issued about Australia's lax building laws and the risk of a Grenfell style fire happening here, during a Senate inquiry into non-compliant cladding.

A Senate inquiry has been told of the potentially tragic consequences of Australia's lax building laws, with experts warning it is only a matter of time before a Grenfell Tower-style tragedy unfolds locally.

Dodgy sprinklers, aggressive profiteering and a lack of regulation were highlighted in evidence to a Senate inquiry investigating non-conforming building products in Sydney on Wednesday.

Grenfell Tower after the blaze.

 

The second day of the inquiry comes a month after the deadly London tower block fire took 79 lives

The inquiry heard there are up to 2500 buildings in NSW and thousands in Victoria at risk of defective cladding similar to that which is being blamed for turning the Grenfell Tower block in London into a towering inferno.

Scott Williams, the chief executive of Fire Protection Association of Australia, told the inquiry that buildings in Sydney and Melbourne shorter than 25 metres were at even greater risk because they were not required to have sprinkler systems monitored by local fire services.

 

"You go and introduce to that flammable cladding and you have the most vulnerable building in Australia," he said.

 

Melbourne's Lacrosse tower could just be one of many buildings across Australia with non-compliant cladding, a senior ...

 

The inquiry heard that even where systems were installed there were widespread concerns about "dodgy sprinklers".

The Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council said they had encountered copies of sprinkler heads that had approval despite glass bulbs not being up to standard.

A view of an apartment in the Grenfell Tower after fire engulfed the 24-storey building, in London.

 

Building Products Innovation Council executive officer Rodger Hills said dangerous building products "are a persistent and endemic problem in the building industry".

Karen Stiles, chief of representative group the Owners Corporation Network, said strata was the fastest growing form of property ownership in Australia, worth up to a trillion dollars.

On Wednesday Labor leader Bill Shorten called for a nationalisation of fire safety standards.

 

"Over half the new dwellings to be built in our metropolitan areas over the next decades will be strata titled, and the growth of this sector raises increasingly important questions over property ownership and governance," she said.

The Owners Corporation Network highlighted the deadly fire risks in the 2012 Bankstown fire, which caused the death of student Conne Zhang, the Melbourne Lacrosse fire which raced up 13 floors of apartments in 2014, and the Grenfell tragedy in Britain.

The Bankstown building where student Conne Zhang died in 2012.

The Bankstown building where student Conne Zhang died in 2012.  Photo: Mick Tsikas

 

"Lacrosse should have woken everyone. Grenfell finally has woken people up - do we need a Grenfell in this country to wake people up? Hopefully not," a spokesman said.

"I have more consumer protection buying a refrigerator than a $1.5 million apartment. How did we get to that?"

In its submission, Engineers Australia slammed the lack of regulation across the country.

"While there is one Building Code in Australia there are eight separate Building Acts, each of which makes a determination on how many mandatory construction phase inspections are to be undertaken for each class of building," the peak body said.

On Wednesday Labor leader Bill Shorten said he supported a nationalisation of fire safety standards.

"What we've heard today echoes what we've heard all around Australia, that we have got a real concern that it's a matter of 'when' not 'if we could see a tragedy not dissimilar to the shocking scenes we saw in London," he said.

Senator Nick Xenophon has called for an Australia-wide audit of the construction of apartment buildings.

 

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