A NSW Upper House committee has slammed the NSW State government over alleged failures in three key areas all of which are directly related to apartment living.
The government is accused of failing to properly address issues with flammable cladding, dragging its feet on legislation required to give Building Commissioner David Chandler the powers he needs to clean up the building industry, and leaving apartment owners in sub-standard buildings in the lurch.
The Legislative Council Public Accountability Committee’s final report into the Regulation of Building Standards, Building Quality and Building Disputes was issued last week to almost zero media attention.
Yet, with the Grenfell disaster in London and the Sydney Opal and Mascot Towers scandals at the forefront of its focus, it contains several damning indictments of the state government’s actions or lack thereof.
And the report warns that lack of action on certification and defects, combined with a push by government to allow the accelerated approvals of apartment blocks for low-cost housing, could be a recipe for disaster.
“The safety and integrity of the New South Wales building and construction industry has never been more important,” writes committee chair David Shoebridge. “With all levels of government looking to deliver a sustained increase in construction activity during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is essential that the Parliament acts now to deliver critical and long-delayed reforms.”
The Greens MLC goes on to say the report “highlights the systemic issues plaguing the building and construction industry and the lack of regulation and oversight by the NSW Government.”
The report contains 22 specific recommendations, the first being that, as a matter of urgency, the state government should introduce and debate the Bill granting the NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler new powers to ensure building standards when the NSW Parliament is reconvened this month .
It also recommends that government resume debate on the Design and Building Practitioners Bill 2019 as a matter of similar urgency.
The report has flammable cladding, the lingering stain of private certification and the role of strata committees in dealing with defective buildings firmly in its sights.
On cladding, Mr Shoebridge writes that the problem is too widespread and the risks are too great for government to not take immediate action and help homeowners in removing flammable cladding from their buildings.
The report suggests taking the lead from the Victorian response by establishing a separate division within a new NSW Building Commission, and an expert panel to assess and provide advice free of charge to homeowners on cladding rectification plans.
It also suggests a similar funding to the Victorian Government’s $600 million package to fund the rectification of buildings containing flammable cladding.
The report also takes a swing at private building certification and its lingering consequences.
“It is clear that the experiment of the last 20 years with private certification has not worked,” write Mr Shoebridge but he cautions that the resulting problems run much deeper than who is allowed to certify new buildings.
“Although many blame private certification for the collapse of confidence in the industry,” he writes, “it is important to note that the problems in the industry are much deeper and more fundamental and lie in a widespread lack of accountability or regulation.
“Fixing only the issue of certification is like putting a Band-Aid on an amputation and so again we come back to the recommendations of the Shergold Weir report to ensure accountability all the way down the construction chain.”
He also said that suggestions put forward by former NSW Treasury secretary Michael Lambert, to improve the certification system should be implemented immediately regardless of whether certification is conducted by private or public authorities.
Finally, Mr Shoebridge addresses the role of strata committees in dealing with defective buildings and calls for the establishment of a Strata Commissioner.
“Given defects are a common issue, particularly in apartment buildings, it is essential that strata committees are given the right tools and support to deal with these complex issues, to avoid the emotional and financial impacts and disputes amongst homeowners that we heard are prevalent in this space.
“In providing this support we call for a Strata Commissioner to be appointed to sit within the Building Commission to provide a number of services to strata committees.
“There are a significant number of strata homeowners out there today dealing with the costs of rectifying major defects in their buildings, who have nowhere to turn. These problems were created by decades of deregulation by the State Government, which has stepped away from its responsibilities to ensure homes are built to an acceptable standard and are safe for occupation.
“It is not right that the whole of this liability is left in the hands of the innocent homeowners in strata buildings who bear no responsibility for defective building work,” he writes, calling on the government to provide financial assistance for apartment owners who have been left high and dry in defective buildings through no fault of their own.
The State government has until October to respond. You can download a PDF of the report HERE.