Urgent action needed to tackle faulty new apartments and houses
19 December 2016
Melbourne's surging population in recent years has had a number of
ramifications. The impact is being felt on the transport and health
systems, and the transformation of the city skyline through at times
short-sighted development. Much of this has been well documented,
though not resolved. Less understood is the damage being done in the
rush to build new homes to house the city's new residents.
As The Age has revealed, there are serious concerns about the quality
of buildings that have been going up in parts of the city this century.
Experts warn that the cutting of corners to lower costs, including the
use of substandard materials and poor workmanship by unqualified
builders, means people are increasingly living in homes that are at
best faulty, at worst dangerous.
Some have compared the risk to that faced by previous generations due
to asbestos. This is perhaps over-inflated language, but experts cite
evidence of significant problems: structural failures and a growing
scourge known as "leaky building syndrome" causing mould so bad that
some houses have become uninhabitable. There are also warnings of major
fire safety risks due to the use of combustible cladding.
Already, there are reports that houses built in the past 10 to 15 years
have been demolished because of substandard builds in several suburbs
across Melbourne, including Reservoir in the north, Balwyn North in the
east, Caulfield in the south-east and Drysdale on the Bellarine
More than 20 houses with polystyrene cladding – foam, effectively – are
said to have been bulldozed after water leaked through broken cladding
and rotted structural timbers.
The victims are real. The Age spoke with several residents who traded
in long-standing family homes for cheaply constructed units that are
now water damaged. There are fears they will have lost significant
parts of their life savings on buildings that cannot be sold.
In the case of apartments, building law specialist Tim Graham says some
are likely to be so badly built that it would make more sense to knock
the buildings down, sell the land to a developer and start again.
The Victorian Building Authority investigation in the wake of the 2014
Lacrosse tower fire in Docklands found that a majority of Melbourne's
newest high rises were wrapped in cladding that had not been properly
installed. In the case of the Lacrosse fire, it was combustible.
The investigation led to changes – the introduction of injunction
powers to inspect construction sites and new rules that compel builders
to repair bad work. But more needs to be done.
Builders Collective of Australia president Phil Dwyer has warned that
developers who put profits before safety will trigger an endemic
failure of the building industry over the next decade as the
ramifications of this become clear. Building regulation expert Stephen
Kip says it is extremely likely lives will be lost.
We agree with Mr Kip and others in the industry who believe this is a
significant regulatory failure that needs to be urgently addressed.
The response should include a more rigorous system for the registration
of tradespeople to ensure they are properly trained and can be held
accountable for their work.
A Builders Collective of Australia proposal for a better system of
building warranty insurance that includes incentives for developers to
use sound construction methods and materials, in part by making them
pay to fix faults, is also worth consideration.
There are likely to also be other answers. Finding them requires all
parties in Victoria's Parliament to acknowledge the extent of the
problem and work together on a parliamentary inquiry charged with
determining how best to respond to fix the buildings already built, and
how to stop the problem getting worse. Failure to do this now will only
increase the cost in the long term.
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