The dangers of non-compliance

Published:  25 January, 2017

Owners of the fire-hit Lacrosse Apartments are ordered to remove non-compliant cladding.

The Lacrosse Apartments in Melbourne's Docklands precinct made international news following a major fire in November 2014.

The blaze, which the Metropolitan Fire Brigade's investigation showed was started by a discarded cigarette, was dramatically exacerbated by the non-compliant use of an aluminium composite external wall cladding.

The MFB investigation confirmed that the existing Alucobest cladding did not meet the relevant performance requirements of the Building Code of Australia.

During an appeal that concluded this month, the Victorian Building Appeals Board (BAB) upheld the orders of the Melbourne City Council Municipal Building Surveyor (MBS) and ordered the owners to remove the cladding on the Lacrosse Apartments.

The decision means the 470 owners of the Lacrosse apartments could be left with an AU$8.6 million cladding replacement bill, on top of AU$6.5 million already spent to fix damage from a fire that tore up the 21-storey building in 2014.

“This fire could so easily have been a tragedy. We are just lucky it wasn't,” commented Fire Protection Association Australia CEO Scott Williams.

“Safety is the first consideration and removing all the cladding and replacing it with a non-combustible product was always the safest option. The BAB's determination, to dismiss a proposal to instead retain and protect the cladding with a wall wetting sprinkler system recognises that fires on a buildings' external façade are difficult to control. It reinforces why the National Construction Code requires non-combustible external walls on a building like this.”

Fire Protection Australia encouraged the MBS to review its decision to allow ongoing occupation of the building, which had few risk-mitigation measures beyond relying on Lacrosse residents keeping their balconies clear from debris and potential fire risks.

“While the combustible cladding is still there, the fire risk is heightened whether the balconies are cleared or not. Over two years ago at Lacrosse we had a dramatic demonstration of the potential for fire spread and this potential remains with combustible cladding remaining on the building's outer walls. What has changed? Occupant safety must be paramount,” said Williams, adding: “Owners have a right to feel let down by the system that has failed to protect them from this situation. Recent changes to the Building Act are encouraging regarding industry reform at large, but these changes still don't treat the core issues of education and enforcement and clearly there is much more to be done."

Although the Building Appeals Board is yet to set a date for the cladding to be removed, local reports suggest a Supreme Court appeal is also likely on the latest decision.

  • Operation Florian

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