News National Fears for Australian buildings after London inferno

Fears for Australian buildings after London inferno

Grenfell Tower
Senator Nick Xenophon has called into an audit of cladding on Australian high-rises after the London fire. Photo: AAP
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Thousands of buildings in Sydney and Melbourne are feared to be covered in cladding similar to the type blamed for causing the rapid spread of a deadly blaze in a London high-rise block of flats.

Up to 2500 buildings in NSW could have cladding containing highly flammable material, while more than 20 high-rise residential blocks in Melbourne still don’t comply with safety laws more than a year after an audit found they weren’t safe.

Cladding added during a recent renovation of the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in west London is feared to have caused a deadly fire to spread quickly through the building, killing at least 12 people on Wednesday.

While the cause is not yet known, residents and building experts have claimed the rainscreen cladding installed on the 43-year-old block last year enabled flames to tear through the building.

Australia is now facing calls for an urgent audit of flammable building products and compulsory independent testing of materials such as cladding.

Up to 2500 buildings in NSW alone have cladding that doesn’t meet fire safety standards, according to a report obtained by the NSW opposition under freedom of information laws in 2015.

“My agency will monitor the investigation into the London fire to determine whether there is any relationship with the combustible cladding matter and whether any further action should be taken on this matter in NSW and at the commonwealth level,” Planning and Housing Minister Anthony Roberts said.

An audit released by the Victorian Building Authority in February last year found half of 170 high-rise apartment blocks in Melbourne’s CBD didn’t comply with safety standards.

The audit was ordered after the Lacrosse building in Melbourne caught fire in 2014, and the owners and builders L.U. Simon have been ordered to remove its cladding by July 2018.

At least 26 buildings – including one at the Royal Freemasons Homes of Victoria and the University of Melbourne union building – were still considered unsafe, VBA chief executive Prue Digby said on Thursday.

Although cladding remained on some buildings, installing sprinklers and escape routes could make a building compliant with fire safety laws, she said.

But Insulation Australia chairman Scott Gibson believes the only way to ensure safety is to have better policing and an independent third body to test the safety of cladding, glazing, steel and insulation.

He fears there’s a proliferation of dodgy building products that may have been used during the recent apartment building boom in Sydney and Melbourne.

“If I was living in a cladded apartment on the 20-something floor, I’d be worried,” he told AAP.

Mr Gibson said part of the problem was that some types of cladding weren’t suitable for high-rise buildings, while construction sub-contractors sometimes use cheap, inferior products instead of those specified by architects.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon wants an urgent audit of flammable building products.

Master Builders Australia boss Denita Wawn said attention should focus on importers and distributors of construction materials.