Fire risk cladding is rife in NSW

NSW'S peak strata body representing the interests of around two million residents living in or owning apartments, units and townhouses says it fears the number of buildings with flammable cladding could be well above the current official estimate of 1,500 and is closer to 2,000.

It says NSW property is facing its biggest single crisis since the Global Financial Crisis with buyers and sellers trading property not knowing if it has flammable cladding.

It also says that unless the cladding problem is fixed, thousands of people in NSW may lose their apartments and or suffer severe financial hardship.

And it wants rogue builders to be hunted down by the NSW Government and if necessary, forced to pay up via retrospective legislation to make flammable cladding builders and suppliers accountable, as part of a plan to fix the unit and apartment crisis in NSW.

Strata Community Association State President, Chris Duggan, says the State Government's own figures point to an estimated 1,500 buildings suspected of having flammable cladding, but a number of local authorities have refused to disclose buildings in their areas with flammable cladding.

"We are making our own enquiries, but we think the number is well above 1,500 and could be as high as 2,000," Mr Duggan said.

Chris Duggan, Strata Community Association state president.
Chris Duggan, Strata Community Association state president. Adelaide Advertiser

"Once those local authorities do their sums and we really scratch the surface, we are confident the number will escalate. There has been a focus on Sydney, but it is a State-wide problem."

Mr Duggan said he had enormous sympathy for residents in apartment blocks, but flammable cladding, not structural integrity remained the major problem for NSW.

"People in buildings with flammable cladding face remediation bills of up to $60,000 per apartment. Multiply that by 1,500 buildings that we know of, and it is not hard to see the enormity of the problem," he said.

"These people relied on Government to tick off the building materials and now everyone is ducking for cover except the Victorian Government which has coughed up $600million. Governments have collected Land Tax, Stamp Duty, Payroll Tax, GST and headworks charges; and they have used taxpayer funds to fix their own cladding problems.

"People in affected buildings will soon find that insurance companies and banks will want that cladding removed and if they do not have a spare maximum $60,000 at hand, they could be in real trouble.

"We do expect people to face a forced sale of their apartments and units and not everyone has a spare $60,000 at hand.

"Flammable cladding can destroy lives but more importantly as we saw at Grenfell Towers, it can kill people.

"I hope the NSW Government will propose a solution before that happens."

Mr Duggan said he wanted builders and suppliers held accountable not only for structural integrity issues like those at Mascot Towers, but also for flammable cladding because builders were continuing to use aluminium cladding two years on from the Grenfell Towers fire in London which killed over 70 people.

"Whilst we are always uncomfortable about retrospective legislation, we have seen too many builders shut down and rise again from the ashes because they know they may be challenged about structural integrity issues and flammable cladding.

"Thousands of people in NSW want justice and so do we on their behalf and if retrospective legislation is the answer, then so be it. Throw the book at builders and suppliers who have taken short cuts regarding flammable cladding and structural integrity."

Mr Duggan said SCA was working on elements of a plan to address flammable cladding, but it required the Government to follow the Victorian lead and step up financially.

"I have written to the Premier requesting a meeting on flammable cladding.

"Governments approved this material, they ticked off the certification process and they have used taxpayer funds to replace cladding on Government owned buildings.

"Yet in NSW, they are still to lift a finger for the 1,500 plus buildings, most of them apartments and units, in NSW that remain impacted by flammable cladding."

"This the biggest single crisis facing the property market in NSW since the GFC and the solution has to be led by Government that has reaped billions of dollars in taxes and charges from property.

"We have an army of two million strata stakeholders in NSW and we are their voice with the NSW Government. They have expectations that the NSW will match Victoria on this issue, and we will continue to champion this position on their behalf.

"But it all starts with the NSW Government being willing to talk and to find a solution."