External cladding used in the construction of the Lacrosse Apartments in Melbourne’s Docklands precinct has been found to have fuelled a fire that broke out last year, causing more than $2 million worth of damages.

Following a review of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade’s (MFB) report on the incident, which found that the cladding had not been tested to comply with Australian standards, the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) has launched an investigation into the conduct of the apartments’ builder, L U Simon, and building surveyor.

The fire began on a balcony of the eighth floor of the Lacrosse Apartments on November 25, 2014, and spread quickly to the top of the building. All building residents were successfully evacuated, and the MFB acknowledged that the building’s sprinklers, smoke detection and early emergency warning systems operated well above their designed capability.

The Alucobest aluminium cladding, however, was tested by the CSIRO to be non-compliant with combustibility requirements for a high-rise building.

“The external cladding material on this building did not to the degree necessary avoid the spread of fire as required by the Building Code of Australia,” MFB Chief Officer Peter Rau said.

“Simultaneous internal fire ignition events over multiple floors are simply an unacceptable fire safety solution for a residential highrise building, or any other occupiable building for that matter,” the report added.

No aluminium composite panel product passed combustibility test when building was commissioned, says builder

L U Simon Managing Director Peter Devitt has told Fairfax that the Alucobest cladding complied with Australian standard tests for ignitability, spread of flame, heat and smoke, but that it, like all other aluminium composite panels, did not pass the test for combustibility back in 2010 when the building was commissioned.

“It was a requirement of the building contract that we use ACP and this was documented on the planning and building permits,” Mr Devitt said.

A Charter Hall spokesperson also told The Australian Financial Review that all necessary certifications were provided by the building surveyor at the completion of the project.

Despite this, a class action is now being considered by 100 owners and residents of the building with law firm Slater and Gordon, whose litigation lawyer Ben Hardwick said the fire was “an epic failure of our building surveying system”.

“The occupancy permit for this building was only issued in 2012, so this is not like some building product that was built 20 years ago, this is in very recent times,” he told 774 ABC Melbourne.

Poor building product compliance is a major issue in Australia, with evidence showing that the market penetration of non-conforming products in key construction product sectors may be up to 50 per cent. A recent survey by the Australian Industry Group found that 92 per cent of builders surveyed had been offered faulty materials or products to buy.

“These faulty products are not meeting Australian standards and causing significant risk of fire or failing the most basic of stress tests,” the Federal Government’s Parliamentary Secretary for Industry, Bob Baldwin, said last year at a national meeting with building industry leaders.

The MFB has called for designers and certifiers to adopt building products with current certificates, and ensure compliance with all conditions imposed on the certificate. It has also called for greater regulation of occupancy rates of apartments, and the possibility of sprinklers on all covered balconies – issues which contributed to the spread of the fire.

Meanwhile, the VBA is taking steps to identify any possible use of non-compliant external cladding elsewhere in Victoria. A dedicated phone line – 136 186 – is available for anyone who is uncertain whether the external aluminium cladding on their building is compliant.