Despite the fire risk of more than 500 buildings comprising flammable cladding, a NSW Government task force has deemed the replacement of the cladding as low priority.

A review of the reforms undertaken by NSW Auditor-General Margaret Crawford has found that the rate of buildings being noted by owners as a risk is slowing. Nearly half of the 1200 buildings identified as high risk are yet to be assessed, with 40 percent of identified buildings either installed with non-flammable cladding or deemed to not be a risk.

The Auditor-General discovered that the cladding taskforce only has a process for clearing high-risk blocks, with no clear plan in place for low-risk buildings. The audit coincides with the melancholy anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, which left 72 people dead and made the world aware of the dangers of flammable cladding. Following the fire, the NSW Government launched a 10-point plan to identify high-risk buildings which was to be carried out by a Department of Customer Service-led taskforce.

Since the plan was put in motion, 50 percent of government-owned and 90 percent of Department of Planning and Environment buildings have either been cleared of risk or had their cladding replaced, but the documentation of the processes by the taskforce has been poor, according to the review.

Crawford points out that there has been no enforcement of a ban on cladding that contains more than 30 percent polyethylene despite it being introduced in 2018. She says the ban should be tightened to mitigate risks akin to Grenfell Tower.

NSW Labor Spokeswoman for Innovation and Better Regulations, Courtney Houssos, says the audit outlines the ‘slow and haphazard’ approach from the taskforce.

“No work has been done on those buildings that were identified as low risk. This is just another symptom of the government’s failure to have a comprehensive and coordinated response,” she says in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.

“There’s been problems with providing apartment owners with certainty about what actually needs to be remediated right from the very beginning.”

Strata Community Australia President Chris Duggan says low-risk buildings should not be forgotten in the remit.

“For high-risk buildings in the beginning it was obviously about prioritising rectification. But clearly stage two now is to make sure lower risk buildings don’t get left behind.”

Only high-risk apartment owners were available to take out loans as part of the $1 billion three-year remediation program introduced by the government In November 2020. It makes it increasingly difficult for low-risk buildings to have flammable cladding replaced in comparison to high-risk, which may well lead to tragedy if left unchecked.

Image: Wkipedia