Lacrosse tower builder refuses to replace illegal flammable cladding, challenges owners to court battle
23 March 2016
The builder of the Lacrosse tower in Docklands is refusing to remove
combustible cladding from the building's facade without an
expensive fight in the courts.
A smouldering cigarette
A smouldering cigarette on a sixth-floor balcony sparked a fire in the
early hours of November 25, 2014, which raced up 13 floors of the
building in only 11 minutes. An investigation by the Metropolitan Fire
Brigade found that the cladding material, imported from China, does not
meet Australian standards and should never have been used on a high
Despite an order from the city council, the builder wants to leave the
facade in place and install sprinklers to put out any fire that does
Lacrosse tower apartment owners now face a tough choice: leave the
cladding in place and accept the sprinklers or fight the builder in
Fire engulfs the Lacrosse building. Photo: MFB
Any dispute over responsibility for the cost of
fire-proofing could act as a precedent for the thousand or so other
buildings in Australia found to be covered in the non-compliant
The Fire Brigade put blame for the blaze's spread squarely on the cheap
cladding, which CSIRO testing has found to be highly flammable.
The City Council has demanded the building be made compliant with
Australian building standards by replacing the cladding with an
alternative that meets Australian standards.
behavioural change solution
Fairfax Media understands that builder LU Simon initially proposed a
behavioural change solution, in which residents of Lacrosse would be
banned from storing items on the building's balconies, and building
overcrowding would be managed.
That proposal was knocked back by the city council, a decision immediately appealed by LU Simon.
If that appeal is unsuccessful, the 312 owners of apartments in the tower essentially have two other options.
offered to install sprinklers
LU Simon has offered to install sprinklers on the balconies to
extinguish any fire that occurs, at no cost to the home owners. The
sprinkler solution has gone to the city council for approval.
The second option, full removal of the cladding, will require the
owners corporation to pay upfront to have the cladding removed and
replaced before attempting to recoup their loss by suing LU Simon for
"LU Simon are of the view that they haven't done anything wrong,"
Fraser Main, the group managing director of Trevor Main, Lacrosse's
facility manager, said. "They don't want to accept formal liability.
They are a financially strong and reasonably well established company.
They know if they get an outcome that's compliant, it may well cost
them less than the legal fees to fight a battle."
more than a thousand buildings
Half of Melbourne's newest high-rises are covered with non-compliant
cladding, and there are estimates more than a thousand buildings
Australia-wide could be compromised.
Colin Grace, a senior partner at body-corporate law specialists Grace
Lawyers, suspects LU Simon is fighting so hard because it is aware the
case may set a precedent.
Mr Grace believes if LU Simon's appeal fails, Lacrosse's owners
corporation would have a very good chance of extracting compensation in
Fairfax Media understands several law firms have already worked through
simulated legal actions against builders in the case that LU Simon's
A spokesperson for LU Simon said: "We are working with relevant parties
to try to resolve these issues. Whilst these processes are under way,
and particularly until the separate investigations have concluded, it
is inappropriate to comment further."
Lacrosse tower fire: owners seek $15 million repair bill from builders
26 December 2016
Owners of the Lacrosse tower are claiming more than $15 million from
L.U. Simon Builders, saying combustible cladding installed on the
apartment complex by the construction company was responsible for the
spread of a major blaze.
Fairfax Media has obtained details of the damage bill following the
2014 fire at the Docklands building, and details of an ongoing case
between the builder and owners of at least 140 apartments.
Work fixing damaged units has already cost more than $6.5 million,
including almost $700,000 to dry out the building, according to
documents filed with the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal.
And it is estimated that it will cost another $8.6 million to remove
and replace the remaining unburnt cladding, to comply with a Melbourne
City Council order.
More than 400 people were evacuated from 673 La Trobe Street on
November 25, 2014, when a discarded cigarette on a balcony started a
fire that very quickly spread up the face of the building.
No one was injured, but the Metropolitan Fire Brigade has said it was lucky no one was killed.
Afterwards, an investigation by the fire brigade found that the
building's cladding material, imported from China, should never have
been used. The incident also exposed widespread problems with building
construction standards in Victoria.
the builder's defence
However, L.U. Simon is defending against claims from the affected
owners, saying it should not be held responsible for the fire and
subsequent damage because the blaze was caused by careless disposal of
a cigarette and spread as a result of materials stored on the balcony.
Clothes airing on balconies helped fuel the fire at the Lacrosse building
It said its design plans had been approved by a building surveyor, fire
engineer and the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, which "gave approval for
the building including variations from specific requirements of the
[Building Code of Australia], subject to certain recommendations being
Cladding like the Alucobest brand used on the Lacrosse tower had been used across Australia for at least 40 years, it said.
"Until the fire incident on 25 November 2014, it was standard practice
in the industry to use aluminium composite panels on the external walls
of buildings not just in Melbourne CBD and all suburbs, but across all
the states and territories in Australia," court documents say.
"The Alucobest panels are marketed and sold internationally as a
product suitable for use on the external cladding of buildings
including high rise residential and commercial buildings."
The Building Appeals Board is set to make a ruling soon on whether the combustible cladding will have to be removed.
In the meantime, lawyers for the owners are claiming almost $1 million
in lost rent, money spent on emergency accommodation during the fire
emergency and compensation for an increase in insurance premiums since
the blaze – which have jumped almost $140,000 since 2013.
balcony clutter remains a danger
The Melbourne City Council says the Lacrosse building is now safe to
occupy, but only if balconies are kept clear of excessive clutter,
which has remained a recurring problem at the tower.
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