STRIKE FORCE INFERNO
EXCLUSIVE Fire squad to safety check Sydney towers
A TOP-LEVEL strike force will be set up to carry out fire safety checks on NSW high-rise buildings.
The inter-agency squad will have the power to force owners to upgrade towers, including replacing cladding, which accelerated the deadly highrise blaze in London this week.
A HIGH-RISE safety “strike force” with the power to force building owners to replace dodgy cladding will be created as the state government moves to avert a London-style towering inferno.
Thousands of buildings across Australia are believed to have the same combustible cladding used on the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, where at least 17 and perhaps as many as 100 residents perished after it erupted in flames.
Urgent discussions within the state government have been under way since the incident on how to safeguard residents in similar apartment blocks, with a plan for action to be floated before Cabinet tomorrow.
The move comes amid revelations the NSW Planning Department raised concerns about dodgy cladding being used on buildings with the state’s councils early last year following a unit block fire in Melbourne.
It is understood the government will set up an interagency strike force to identify residential high-rise buildings with fire risks, which may include unsafe cladding.
Building owners will be alerted to any potential fire risks and urged to undertake a fire safety inspection within 30 days.
Should a building’s cladding be deemed a fire risk, owners could be forced to replace it.
The government also wants to expedite fire safety and certification reforms, which include setting out the minimum standards of expertise for anyone conducting a fire safety inspection of a building.
Work is also under way to amend regulations to require annual fire statements to re- cord whether a building has cladding to enable owners to address any fire safety issues.
While taking a proactive approach, the government wants to ensure councils also play a key role in addressing the potential safety risk.
It can be revealed the NSW Department of Planning secretary wrote to the state’s councils in February 2016 regarding “fire safety issues” arising from the cladding.
The councils will be asked to detail the actions they have taken since the letter.
The government also wants the federal government to ban the cladding used in London’s Grenfell Tower, to stop any more of it from coming into the country.
It is understood Fair Trading Minister Matt Kean is overseeing the drafting of legislation that will give him powers to pull dangerous building products off the market when required, including cladding.
While Mr Kean declined to comment on the talks until Cabinet had made a decision, he said: “We will do whatever it takes to protect the people of NSW.”
A criminal inquiry has been launched into the London fire, which will explore why the building used a cladding deemed so flammable and unsafe by American authorities that it is banned in the US.
The rise in the use of cheap materials has been on the radar of states and territories for several years, with work under way on a national approach to banning dodgy products.