STRIKE FORCE IN­FERNO

EX­CLU­SIVE Fire squad to safety check Syd­ney tow­ers

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - FRONT PAGE - LINDA SIL­MALIS

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.

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