COVID-19 has delayed the NSW Government’s project to remove flammable cladding from at-risk apartment buildings.

239 apartment buildings across New South Wales that house a number of the state’s residents are labeled high risk by the government, and are required to have the materials removed in order to prevent a tragedy similar to the Grenfell Tower blaze in London, in 2017.

The removal was slated to begin later this year, with the government planning to complete the project by late 2023. NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler says he anticipates work to remove the cladding will begin in February.

“We estimate the project is between four and six weeks behind schedule. But we are on track to begin assessment and triage works in the coming months, and remediation works will commence straight after the traditional summer break in the trades industries,” he says in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.

“COVID-19 has impacted the construction industry and how we can operate through lockdown.”

The project has come under fire from the Labor Party and the Greens, who believe the government have not acted quick enough.

“More than four years on from Grenfell, we still don’t have a single piece of cladding removed as part of Project Remediate,” says Greens MP David Shoebridge.

A tower in Milan caught fire on Sunday that destroyed the building. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured, but it outlines the need to remove the materials as quickly as possible.

Chandler says he has engaged with residents that live in at-risk towers. He understands the concerns of the residents, and says he hopes the project will allay those concerns.

“We know that a lot of apartment owners who bought their projects some years back didn’t see this coming,” he says.

grenfell tower blaze london aerial view

Those who own the buildings are able to apply for interest-free loans in order to pay for the cost of removing and replacing the cladding. The government estimates the average cost to remove and replace the materials is valued at around $4 million. More than 60 buildings have been registered by their owners.

Hansen Yuncken is tasked with managing the project. Nick Jacobs says the company is scheduling buildings depending on the risk, complexity and readiness involved in removing the flammable cladding. 

“Typically, triage, design and construction work will take around 12 months for the average building,” he says.

“Some buildings will have longer or shorter durations, depending on the scale and complexity.”