This week has seen a significant amount of AIB representation at activities focussed on cladding. I have had a few days involvement in the public arena with the assistance of our CEO Greg Hughes.

Grenfell Towers

I started the week last Monday attending a presentation hosted at RMIT’s School of Property, Construction and Project Management with support from the Victorian Building Association, the Institute of Chemical Engineers and the Future Fuels CRC. Dame Judith Hackitt presented to industry, government and community representatives this morning about her Building a Safer Future final report.

The event included an outline of the Victorian response from Ted Baillieu – Chair of the Cladding Task Force in Victoria & a regulators update from Sue Eddy CEO at the VBA who both signalled action and the current progress in identifying buildings and the urgent action still required in response following the recent Neo200 fire.

Dame Judith was then provided the majority of the two hour period to provide a presentation to outline the key issues to an audience of approximately 200 industry, government and community representatives about her Building a Safer Future final report. The UK government has already indicated the 53 recommendations in the report will be adopted in full.

2nd Annual Cladding Summit – Sydney

The focus then moved to NSW for Wednesday and Thursday with both Greg and I attending and facilitating the program for the Safe Cladding, Buildings and Façade Innovation Summit in Sydney. I provided the Opening Address for both days of the summit with Greg chairing the program for day 1, and I chaired the program for day 2.

The conference attracted a wide range of practitioners across building, regulation, local government, government agencies, fire engineers, private building surveyors, certified testing bodies and product suppliers. We opened with an address from Minister Karen Andrews MP – Chair of the BMF. International speakers included Roy Wilsher and Gary Strong from the UK. Our local experts included Adam Dalrymple, Jonathan Barnett, Stephen Halliday, Andrew Harris and John Prendergast. We also had additional panel sessions and case studies that covered all areas impacted with respect to safe cladding including fire safety, essential services, testing, verification, compliance, digital transformation to enhance safety, sustainability and performance, financing and insurance, remediation and rectification of at risk buildings, local government building compliance and management and alternative solutions.

The key message was the use of PE core materials is a significant hazard, the size of the problem will include a large number of buildings in both the residential and commercial sectors, while new buildings now have bans on ACP with PE cores greater than 30% no consistent solution is being offered across all states to start the process of re-cladding and making safe existing structures.

Roy Wilsher – Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council (UK) provided the full detail of the fire brigade response around the fire at Grenfell Tower and the subsequent enquiry which has taken statements from some 400 people with respect to events leading up to the fire as well as the actions on the day.

Andrew Harris – Director, Technical Futures and Engineering Excellence Group at Laing O’Rourke gave a stunning presentation of disruptive change for future construction systems and the likely way forward that may include cladding and building systems that are radically different from products that are currently available.

We closed the conference on Thursday evening and then received details of the VCAT Decision released by Judge Woodward on 28 February 2019 in relation to the Lacrosse Fire.

While the news headline was talking sensationally about damages of $5.75m being awarded for Lacrosse owners. Despite the sensational headline an entirely different picture of the VCAT decision is revealed by actually referring to the 227 page report.

Some key statements identified within the first dozen pages probably frame the decision with more clarity than the headline and the summary starts at pages 7 & 8

  • However, the Builder did not fail to exercise reasonable care …
  • The Building Surveyor breached its Consultant Agreement with the developer executed in January or February 2010 and later novated to The Builder (“GG Consultant Agreement”), by failing to exercise due care …
  • The Architect breached its Consultant Agreement with the developer executed on about 4 August 2010 and later novated to The Builder (“EF Consultant Agreement”) by failing to exercise due care …
  • The Fire Engineer breached its Consultant Agreement with the developer executed on about 9 July 2010 and later novated to The Builder (“TN Consultant Agreement”) by failing to exercise due care …

This decision may not be the end of the matter, but it shows for this project and its owners they now have a damages decision, the finance and insurance industries are already working to complete the recladding work, and this building will soon be among the list of those that have been made safe. This is only one of thousands facing similar cladding problems.

However our industry will face increased attention in the coming weeks and months, and as this week has shown all jurisdictions are yet to have a clear path forward. It appears all States don’t want to be the first to legislate a solution for the industry and the preparedness to identify what buildings need action is also mixed across the country.

This decision will also have an impact downstream for building owners and managers around essential services maintenance, and proper record keeping along with independent verification that buildings once completed must be correctly maintained for the life of the building. Life safety issues will gain a larger importance with regulators and body corporate committees can no longer avoid keeping their buildings safe because they can’t make a decision on necessary works.

So perhaps this is the ideal time to recognise that government, regulators and industry have all played a part up to this point, in allowing ACP and other products to be previously used in a non-compliant manner. The solution therefore relies on all of the same players now working together to quickly address the existing buildings that need rework to this dangerous cladding.

David Burnell FAIB
National President
Australian Institute of Building