Update on the Fire Safety and External Wall Cladding Taskforce
In July 2017 Minister for Better Regulation, Matt Kean announced the development and implementation of a co-ordinated, whole of government 10-point plan to the use of potentially dangerous cladding in NSW.
The plan included the establishment of the whole of government ‘Fire Safety and External Wall Cladding Taskforce’ to coordinate and roll out the reforms.
The Cladding Taskforce comprises representatives from the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation (DFSI) including Fair Trading, the NSW Data Analytics Centre (DAC), the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE), Fire & Rescue NSW (FRNSW), the Office of Local Government (OLG), Treasury and the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC).
The Cladding Taskforce takes fire safety very seriously and has worked to address concerns over fire safety risks arising from the use of aluminium composite panel (ACP) cladding on buildings in NSW. The taskforce has met 28 times since being established.
A priority activity of the Taskforce has been to identify ACP on buildings in NSW, and ensuring affected buildings are safe. This has been undertaken through a sustained effort to use the resources of the NSW Government to work with building owners and occupants, industry, and local government to locate affected buildings in NSW.
The most recent Taskforce meeting recorded the progress on building inspections and assessments. At present 417 buildings require further assessment as a high priority because they have cladding in a quantity, location and/or arrangement which potentially increases fire risks. A total of 222 of the 417 buildings are residential buildings, with 83 classified as high rise (buildings comprising more than 8 storeys).
In total, Fire & Rescue NSW has visited, inspected and assessed over 2280 sites identified through the initial audit, as well as analysis of development approvals by the Department of Planning and Environment, buildings identified by local councils, and visual observations by Fire & Rescue NSW officers.
Where Fire & Rescue identified sites with cladding requiring further assessment, it has written to local councils requesting their authorised fire officers inspect each affected building, and to report back on the outcome of their inspections.
Fire & Rescue is considering the responses received and is continuing to work with councils to finalise the reports. For buildings that were approved by the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE), DPE is issuing notices requiring owners to undertake further investigations. This work is ongoing.
The Taskforce’s work to identify buildings that have been inspected and assessed and the ACP cladding remains ongoing.
- In April 2018, NSW Government won the agreement of the national Building Ministers’ Forum to examine and report on existing responsibilities of parties to meet the cost of rectification of non-compliant combustible cladding, including the rights of parties to recover costs from those responsible.
- Earlier in April 2018, the NSW Government passed an amendment to home building laws administered by NSW Fair Trading. The new laws classify unsafe external wall cladding as a major defect. Existing home building laws in NSW provide safeguards to owners of new properties with major defects for up to six years after construction finishes. The cladding amendment makes it clear that those protections include unsafe external wall cladding.
- In March 2018, NSW Fair Trading Commissioner, Rose Webb, called for public submissions on whether a building product use ban is warranted on certain types and certain uses of external cladding. The responses received are being considered.
- In February 2018, the Cladding Taskforce launched an advertising campaign, aimed at residents and tenants of high-rise apartment buildings in NSW that may have cladding installed. The campaign outlined the steps occupants can take to ensure they have the information and expert advice they need to make sure their building is safe.
- In January 2018, the Department of Planning and Environment released proposed amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation for public consultation. The proposed amendments will require owners of buildings with combustible external wall cladding to register and make a statement to the NSW Government and ensure an independent fire safety assessment is carried out. DPE is now finalising the regulation following the public submissions.
- In December 2017, NSW Fair Trading visited 51 sites that Fire & Rescue NSW determined required further expert assessment, and hand delivered letters to building residents. Fair Trading has continued to hand deliver letters directly to building residents if their buildings are identified as requiring further assessment.
- Also in December 2017, the NSW Government strengthened the tough fire safety laws in NSW with the introduction of the Building Products (Safety) Act 2017, administered by NSW Fair Trading. The new laws require dangerous building products to be located and risks to be addressed.
- In October 2017 the NSW Government commenced the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Fire Safety and Building Certification) Regulation 2017. The Regulation strengthened fire safety certification for new and existing buildings. The Amending Regulation helps improve the rigour and checking in the design, approval, construction and maintenance phases of the building life cycle.
- In July 2017, taskforce member agency, Fire & Rescue NSW, developed a comprehensive fact sheet on fire safety in high-rise residential buildings, available in a number of languages including Chinese simplified, Chinese traditional, Korean, Vietnamese and Arabic.
- In July 2017, the Cladding Taskforce requested that heads of all NSW Departments and Agencies take immediate action to assess and, if needed, remedy any fire safety issues arising from the presence of cladding. Secretaries were requested to act to ensure all cluster properties are verified as fire safe as they relate to cladding.
- In July 2017, the Cladding Taskforce wrote directly to more than 5,000 building owners and managers of buildings identified in the audit to provide information about the action they should take to ensure the safety of their building. The Taskforce has continued to write directly to building owners if their buildings are identified as requiring further assessment.
- Also in July 2017, the NSW Government commenced a comprehensive suite of reforms to further strengthen the protections in place for fire safety, with a focus on residential buildings, including reforms to the Building Certification System.
- In June 2017, the inter-agency Fire Safety and External Wall Cladding Taskforce was established. The Taskforce performs an expert and advisory function and is working with the Federal Government, local councils and industry.
More information about cladding and the ongoing operations of the taskforce can be found at cladding.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au. For information about fire safety, visit Fire & Rescue NSW’s high-rise building fire safety page.