News / Property

Dozens of flammable buildings yet to be fixed

Less than half of buildings in Moreland with combustible cladding have been made safe

Damage is still unrepaired and visible from a fire at the Anstey Square building in 2017.

Mark Phillips
Monday, December 6, 2021

DOZENS of apartment buildings in Brunswick continue to pose a danger to residents and the public three years after they were identified as containing highly combustible cladding.

Less than half of the 158 buildings in the City of Moreland found to have flammable cladding have been made safe, with most of those still to be rectified under the responsibility of Moreland Council.

A council report says it could take up to another three years for the remaining 86 buildings to have their combustible cladding either removed or modified.

Of the buildings still to be dealt with, 46 are considered to be high risk.

Moreland Councillor Sue Bolton said there had not been enough progress in making the buildings safe for the community and questioned whether the replacement cladding was sufficient.

“I don’t think it’s happening fast enough and I have questions about some of the ‘inflammable cladding’ which is still very flammable,” she said.

The council will not release the names and addresses of the buildings, citing confidentiality reasons.

A fire at the Anstey Square apartment and retail building in Brunswick in March 2017 was one of the catalysts for the state government cladding removal program. Although no-one was injured, the fire, which was caused by a faulty air-conditioning unit on a balcony, quickly spread via flammable cladding to another floor.

Just a couple of months after the Anstey Square fire, 72 people were killed in the horrific Grenfell Tower highrise inferno in London, with flammable cladding to blame for the rapid spread of the fire.

Melbourne had already seen the risks as early as 2014 when a burning cigarette caused significant damage and the evacuation of the Lacross apartment building in Docklands.

Hundreds of buildings across Melbourne have flammable cladding, which is usually made from an aluminium compound for decorative purposes.

Moreland was one of the first municipalities in Melbourne to conduct combustible cladding audits in 2018-19. Of the 255 buildings that were audited, 158 were identified as having combustible cladding.

Responsibility for removal of the dangerous cladding is split between the Victorian Building Authority and the council.

But a common thread is that 97% of the building permits were issued by a private surveyor as a result of outsourcing of building approvals by the council.

The VBA has been determined to be responsible for 12 extreme risk and 54 high risk buildings in Moreland. So far, three have had their combustible cladding removed and 23 are slated for rectification by Cladding Safety Victoria. But plans to make 40 safe are on hold pending further negotiations with owner corporations.

It is a similar story for the 92 dangerous buildings under the council’s responsibility. Only half of these have been rectified or deemed safe, although plans have been developed for another 36.

A report to the council last month by its acting Director City Futures Phillip Priest said social distancing requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic had made it more difficult to make progress on the building rectification program.

Cr Bolton said she understood there were impediments to removing cladding, including resistance from owners corporations required to share some of the cost burden, but she felt the improvements were too slow.

“While this is mainly state government Victorian Building Authority responsibility, Moreland has a high number of buildings that have flammable cladding and I feel that this information … is really important for us to make public so people know exactly what is going on, how many buildings have been found to have flammable cladding in Moreland, the risk level of those buildings, how many have had the cladding removed, how many are still to go,” she said.

“This is such an important issue because the issue of flammable cladding isn’t just high-rise, it’s not even just mid-rise, it can also be some quite low-level buildings as well.”

Cr Bolton said she would seek an update on progress again in 12 months time.