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Tram shame

Non-compliant cladding in Southbank

13 Jul 2017

Non-compliant cladding in Southbank Image

By Shane Scanlan

For all its high-rise, Southbank appears to be relatively free of the type of non-compliant building cladding that the Grenfell tragedy in London has brought into sharp focus.

Harvest Apartments at 144-150 Clarendon St was one of the first to be publicly revealed from a Victoria Building Authority (VBA) audit in 2015. The City of Melbourne’s municipal building surveyor (MBS) later deemed Harvest safe to occupy “conditional upon certain works being undertaken”.

We know this because Harvest was added to a publicly accessible list on the VBA website in October 2015.

What we don’t know is how many Southbank buildings are on a secret list of 17 buildings still not declared by the City of Melbourne. The city says they are all safe to occupy, but why the secrecy?

The council is prone to confuse leadership with paternalism and is affected by a culture which values avoiding risk much higher than including the public.

It’s almost certain that Elm Apartments is on the list of 17. Elm is one of six Melbourne properties on the Metropolitan Fire Brigade’s (MFB) heightened response list (along with Harvest).

The council says the list is secret because it doesn’t want to alarm people. It says it is dealing directly with affected owners’ corporations and it’s no one else’s business.

But, given the seriousness of the issue, doesn’t the public have a right to know? Not everyone is an owners’ corporation executive member. What about other owner-occupiers? What about renters? What about hotel or short-stay apartment guests?

In answer to questions from Southbank Local News on June 20, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle defended the council’s approach.

“We don’t make those public. The people who are in the building know. Their owner’s corporations know. We want to protect against a public alarmist view,” Cr Doyle said.

“In fact, we’re working through this quite quickly. When this was first discovered, there were something like 170 buildings that were identified.”

Cr Doyle then went on to explain why the process was taking so long.

“There is a remarkably small number of qualified building surveyors who can do the necessary work because, of course, many of them worked on these buildings in the first place and it would be quite inappropriate for them to be doing evaluations of their own work,” he said.

“So the cross conflict of interest meant there was a very small pool of expertise was available. Most of that fell to the City of Melbourne and our municipal building surveyor, the statutory officer who works here.”

“Of the buildings that were referred to us, we have moved through, on a risk profile, down to the last 17. We are hopeful that they can be resolved in a relatively short period of time.”

“We have worked very co-operatively with building owners and, in most cases, compliance measures, even when initially disagreed, have then been agreed.”

“There’ll be a range of different possibilities for those last buildings.

We don’t want public alarm. If, however, we get to a point with some of those in the last 17 where there is a dispute about what would make a building compliant, we would be prepared to pursue that legally and, in that case, those buildings would be publicly identified.”

With the State Government on July 3 establishing a taskforce to investigate the extent of non-compliant cladding throughout the state, it is unlikely to have any impact on Southbank, as it has already been audited.

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