Cladding ban approved as states grapple with ongoing risks

A nationwide ban on the use of combustible cladding has been agreed by states struggling to deal with the burden of remediation work. 

A meeting of building ministers in Hobart last week agreed to an in-principle ban, with federal industry, science and technology minister Karen Andrews confirming the agreement “subject to proper investigation and some discussions with industry”.

“Victoria and NSW have already moved to ban the use of cladding on new construction over certain heights,” she said.

“The states can now work on how they’re going to further implement changes in their own jurisdictions. Each state or territory can proceed immediately to implement bans in full but I’m going to encourage them to bring industry with them.”

Since London’s Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, which killing 72 people when fire ripped through external cladding, cities across the world have wrestled with the problem of combustible external panels.

Removing the material from existing buildings, including numerous tourism accommodation properties, continues to be an ongoing headache in Australia as work is hampered by the cost of mitigation, the lack of national timetable and framework for implementation and disputes over who is responsible for its funding and completion. Each state is responsible for developing and implementing its own cladding management plan.

The latest consensus comes after a Melbourne CBD apartment tower covered in flammable cladding caught fire on Monday, sparked by a cigarette on a 22nd-storey balcony.

No one was hurt in the blaze, which quickly spread across five storeys.

The 40-storey Neo200 tower on the corner of Spencer and Little Bourke Street had previously been designated as ‘moderate risk’ due to its external cladding and was one of more than 2000 inspected by the Victorian Building Authority.

Victoria refuses to make public its list of hundreds of buildings deemed at risk, for fear they may be targeted by arsonists.

The state’s planning minister Richard Wynne, who this week came under fire for stalling over the promised appointment of a state building inspector to address cladding issues, led the charge for a federal ban.

“Victoria has pushed for a national response to flammable cladding ever since the 2014 Lacrosse fire but has been met with frustrating resistance from the federal government,” he said prior to the meeting.

“Given the fire risk and the cost to apartment owners to fix cladded buildings, the most commonsense approach is to stop this material from coming in to the country all together – and we need federal government support to make that happen.”

Ms Andrews conceded there was a matter of urgency linked to the remediation of buildings currently fitted with the risky cladding.

“We recognise there is a timeliness issue here and that we need to move forward at a very fast place,” she said. “It is an issue of concern to residents in apartment blocks and of course workers.”

However, no national consensus was reached on how to deal with existing cladding issues. More discussions are scheduled for July.

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