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Opal Tower: The Tale of Faulty Towers

The Christmas Eve 2018 evacuation of Opal Tower residents following loud 'cracking sounds' is just the beginning of the journey for the owners and those tenants who elect to stay. 60 Minutes takes a peak into the fraught world of new high-rise apartments.  
Channel 9
Ross Greenwood

ACT government 'ignores' call to ease rates pressure on unit owners

The ACT government has ignored calls to immediately overhaul the city's ratings system to help ease the burden of rising rates on Canberra's apartment owners, owners say, but it will review the system in the next two years. The government has promised to publicly review the system and is considering whether any such changes may be needed in either the 2019-20 or 2020-21 budget, and intends to announce the new policy settings for the third five-year period of its 20-year tax reforms in 2022-23. But Owners Corporation Network head Gary Petherbridge said the proposed review came with no guarantee of actual changes in the future, and the government's response showed it was simply ignoring the community. A raft of unit owners previously told the committee the changes made in the 2017-18 budget had sent the valuations of their units soaring, leading in turn to massive increases in rates in a single year.
The Canberra Times
Daniel Burdon

On Byron Bay’s slow democracy and fast money

Byron Bay on the NSW north coast is not just an iconic holiday destination but a highly green one. It’s also a bit of a “canary”. If Byron can’t make good planning and a healthy environment stick, with its lush history of hippies and deep greens, then it’s going to be a lot harder for anyone else. So it was instructive and maybe slightly unnerving to call in there (briefly) to chat with some locals and find that not all is well in Paradise. Lurking beneath the glamour and natural beauty are stories of the stifling by-products of success, left unchecked. Former long term mayor of Byron Bay Jan Barham renowned for her feisty defence of the town’s inhabitants and its green agenda says Airbnb and its forebear homestays are a scourge, robbing the town of affordable accommodation and putting enormous pressure on services and development.
The Fifth Estate

Welcome to the Faulty Towers state, where any mug's an engineer

I’m sorry, run that by me again? We don’t require engineers to be licensed, qualified or registered? So the hundreds of shonky-looking resi-towers newly metastasising across our city don’t just look like slums-in-waiting but may have no structural or fire integrity to speak of because anyone, including my great aunt Cecily’s dog Tozer, can sign their engineering certificates. Seriously? In our world, building is driven by profit. Beneath that, three systems intersect: legal, planning and engineering. If I owned a new Sydney apartment – which thank God I don’t – all three would be keeping me awake at night. Engineers – fire, structural and civil – we trust with our lives. In boom situations, where local firms are routinely swallowed by international conglomerates (such as WSP which engineered Opal), where the market is flooded with shonky materials and practices are self-certified, unregulated engineering makes sense like unregulated brain surgery. Welcome to Faulty Towers.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Elizabeth Farrelly

What lies beneath the cracks in Opal Tower — and buildings across Australia

The saga of Opal Tower, the 36-storey Sydney apartment building evacuated on Christmas Eve after frightening cracking, has helped to expose the deep cracks in Australia's approach to building apartments. The tower's size, age (it is less than six months old) and the timing of its cracks might have made it particularly newsworthy, but badly built apartment blocks are far from unusual. Right now across Australia's cities many buildings have significant leaks, cracks and fire safety failings. So we can't just address faults in individual developments. We need to identify the systemic flaws in how "compact city" policies have been planned and implemented. As the population of Australia's capital cities grows, more of us are living in apartments. Governments have been promoting greater housing density as an alternative to sprawl for decades. But they haven't always ensured this density has been done well, including in terms of building quality. We can't afford to ignore the growing evidence that our cities are cracking under the strain. Because like the Opal Tower owners, we're all going to bear the cost when things go wrong, and we'll all have to live amid the wreckage.
ABC News first published in The Conversation
Laura Crommelin Bill Randolph Hazel Easthope Martin Loosemore

Opal Tower: Body corporate warns against return amid calls for building industry audit

Residents of Sydney's Opal Towers, who were forced to leave their homes on Christmas Eve, are facing more uncertainty over whether they can return to their apartments. While the tower's builder has given many residents the green light, the body corporate is recommending people wait for more engineering assessments to be done.
SBS

The ‘systemic’ issues plaguing the building industry for ‘decades’

From mushrooms sprouting from mouldy floors, to tradies cutting corners and “mates” certifying buildings, experts say systemic problems are plaguing the building industry, and our homes.  And while Sydney’s Opal Tower debacle thrust them into the spotlight and put further pressure on governments to act, they say issues have been going on for decades. A report last year revealed huge problems in the construction industry. It took three months for the government to release the report, a further several months for senior officers to meet about it and only next month are they gathering again to see where progress — if any — is at. Co-author of the Shergold and Weir report Building Confidence, Bronwyn Weir, said when she read about the Opal Tower she “was not surprised”.  “We were looking at systems used across the country and whether they’re adequate,” Ms Weir said. “There were systemic issues."
News.com.au
Stephanie Bedo

Government expert says Opal crisis could have been avoided

Michael Lambert, whose review of the Building Professionals Act contained 150 recommendations for improving quality control in new buildings, claims there are thousands of other defective buildings whose plight is never reported. Mr Lambert says defects in 85 per cent of the state's newly built apartment blocks, as revealed in a UNSW study, are the result of a systemic problem that will only get worse at "massive costs to individuals and society". "Defects are cheap if they can be fixed before the building is completed," he said, claiming the costs would be one-tenth of fixing issues after the matter, while avoiding residents having to move out and having their lives disrupted. "But there needs to be an effective regulatory system," he added. "There's a problem with this being in Fair Trading which is very reactive and passive. They don't have a proactive approach."
The Australian Financial Review
Sue Williams and Jimmy Thomson

Opal Tower failure reveals “broken system”

Sydney’s Opal Tower has dominated headlines after cracks appeared along a concrete wall in the 38-storey Homebush building in Olympic Park on Christmas Eve. Building defects aren’t unusual in Australian construction, but what the crumbling Opal Tower highlights is the vulnerability of builders and subcontractors of defective buildings and the lack of protections for consumers who buy them. "This is a David-and-Goliath fight no owner expects, or should be expected, to enter into," Karen Stiles, Owners Corporation Network executive officer, told The Australian Financial Review. “But they are left by a broken system to fend for themselves."
Insurance Business Mag
Mina Martin

Baptism of Fire: Opal Tower's Challenge For Newly Formed Owners Corporation

Residents of Opal Tower heard the unwelcome news on Friday that the NSW government-appointed engineers needed more time before they would approve any repair – and hence a return – to the building. In a statement referring "design and construction issues that require further investigation", engineers Mark Hoffman and John Carter said it could take another week before they were in a position to say more. It's tough enough as it is for executive committees, the handful of volunteers who steer their building's organisation. "They're just like deers in the headlights," said Karen Stiles, the executive officer of Owners Corporation Network, an advocacy group for owners corporations.  "There's a committee of unskilled volunteers who are likely to have no experience in managing a medium-to-large business, which is what this building is. Committee members are often older, people with a sense of service and who have the time. Being on a committee can be a full-time job, especially if it's a new building where you're bedding down building managers and cleaners." "There's a huge learning curve to living in strata and apartments and being on a committee and there's almost no support for them," Stiles says.
The Australian Financial Review
Michael Bleby

For consumer protection buy a fridge, not a flat

For too long governments have ignored the key stakeholder in the apartment building boom: the resident.  In fact, under current consumer laws, you receive more protection buying a refrigerator than a $1 million apartment. With population projections showing NSW will be home to 9.9 million people by 2036, and 70% of newly approved dwellings estimated to be apartments, a significant loss of confidence in strata living would be devastating for the state. You would think that such a reliance on apartment living would see governments ensure that citizens who live in vertical villages are protected if things go wrong. Sadly, this is not the case. Apartment owners in NSW, and across the country, have little consumer protections, while developers are not held accountable for their actions. If governments fail to act, there will undoubtedly be more issues and zero accountability, which will continue to undermine confidence in this vitally important form of housing.
The Sydney Morning Herald
Stephen Goddard

Labor to Reform Building Industry to Promote Better, Safer Homes

If elected in March, Labor will in its first term: Introduce a single piece of legislation, a standalone building act to strengthen regulations, improve consumer protections and transparency around people’s rights as well as raise professional standards; Establish a single agency, the NSW Building Authority, reporting to a single Minister to increase and streamline accountability of every person in the construction chain; Introduce chain of responsibility for everyone in the building process including for building products to permit product recalls, banning the use of non-conforming products, and empowering building inspections or audits; Prevent developers from being able to choose their own certifier to eradicate potential conflict of interest that has arisen between certifiers who are over dependent on developers whose work they are signing off on.

'Welcome to the Gypsy life': New Year's pain for Opal Tower residents

Embattled Opal Tower residents housed in accommodation booked out for the New Year's period might have to move a third time in days, in "another nuisance" admitted by the building's developer. Anger boiled over among residents of the harrowed complex, who were told on Thursday they would need to leave for up to 10 days so a full-scale investigation could be conducted. Stephen Goddard, chairman of the Owners Corporation Network of Australia, said that, in his experience, the saga would drag on far longer.  "Welcome to the Gypsy life," he said. "It's going to continue for a very long time. If you think 10 days is it, you're out of your mind."
The Sydney Morning Herald
Angus Thompson

The nightmare continues: Residents of Opal Tower face New Year's Eve misery as hotels fill with tourists - leaving them homeless

New Years Eve hotel bookings are threatening to push the already displaced residents of Sydney's cracked Opal Tower back into uncertainty. Hundreds of residents were first evacuated after loud cracking noises heard by residents prompted calls to emergency services on Christmas Eve. Thousands of people were evacuated from the surrounding areas amid fears the tower could collapse. Stephen Goddard, chairman of the Owners Corporation Network of Australia, told the Sydney Morning Herald residents would likely be out of their homes for much more than 10 days. 'Welcome to the Gypsy life,' he said. 'It's going to continue for a very long time. If you think 10 days is it, you're out of your mind.'  
Daily Mail