Combustible cladding to be stripped off Lacrosse Docklands tower
The Age
By: Aisha Dow
17 January 2017

Combustible cladding plastered across a Docklands high-rise will be stripped from the building after it was found the imported material posed a "significant and unacceptable" risk to hundreds of residents.

On Monday, the Building Appeals Board ordered the owners to remove the material. It quashed a bid by LU Simon Builders to keep the cladding and instead install more sprinklers, saying the equipment might fail  with "catastrophic" results.

"The risk posed by the current cladding is so serious that it is necessary to have a building order which requires the owners to remedy the situation," the board found.

The decision means the 470 owners of the Lacrosse apartments could be left with an $8.6 million cladding replacement bill, on top of $6.5 million already spent to fix damage from a fire that tore up the 21-storey building in November 2014.

questions about the safety of the building

The determination also raises questions about the safety of the building, after the board found balconies were being used to store residents' possessions – which, along with the combustible cladding, helped fuel the spread of the 2014 blaze.

While Melbourne City Council's building surveyor has insisted that the Lacrosse building is safe to occupy, it remains on the condition that interim safety measures such as keeping balconies clear of clutter and preventing overcrowding are in place.

On Monday many balconies at Lacrosse were cluttered with items, including clothes horses.

Resident Yuka Saito said she did not even know there had been fire in the building. The 26-year-old Japanese student has lived in the tower for a year, with five people in a two-bedroom unit.

"Every Wednesday or Thursday there is an alarm [for a fire drill], but nobody cares," she said.

Cluttered balconies this week at Dockland's Lacrosse tower. Photo: Chris Hopkins

A council spokeswoman said occasional instances of balcony clutter had been rectified and council was auditing maintenance records at the building about every four months.

Cluttered balcony at the Lacrosse tower. Photo: Chris Hopkins

The Building Appeals Board is yet to rule on when the cladding will have to be removed and, with a Supreme Court appeal possible, Fire Protection Association Australia chief executive Scott Williams said he was concerned the issue would drag on.

Mr Williams said it only took a small combustible item, and the right circumstances, for a fire to start.

Another cluttered balcony at the Lacrosse tower. Photo: Chris Hopkins

"I think it is very hard for Melbourne City Council to enforce [clutter on balconies]. People have a right to use them, but in these circumstances, until that cladding is replaced, there continues to be a heightened level of risk," he said.

Adding to the safety concerns, an engineering expert told the latest appeal that there was "no fire separation within or between" floors in the tower.

"I would argue it's a common law property right that fires should not spread to other properties," Dr Tony Enright, a fellow of Engineers Australia, said.

"While a fire within a building can occur, people including emergency responders shouldn't be injured or die, and another person's property shouldn't be damaged."

A spokeswoman for LU Simon declined to say whether the construction company would foot the bill for the replacement cladding.

"We are awaiting directions from the lawyers as to the effect of the judgment on ourselves and the owners," she said.

At least 140 owners are already seeking $15 million in compensation from the builder in an ongoing Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal case.

LU Simon had proposed to install balcony sprinklers and wall wetting sprinklers, but the board said it was not satisfied the sprinklers would operate properly during high-wind conditions.

It said the installed Alucobest cladding did not meet the relevant performance requirements of the Building Code of Australia and "was highly unusual for a building of Lacrosse's size".

The Metropolitan Fire Brigade warned even if additional wall sprinklers were installed, the fire could spread significantly before the sprinklers were activated.

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