Could London inferno happen here? 2500 buildings at risk
UP to 2500 buildings in NSW are at risk of huge London-style fires, according to a NSW government report - but little appears to have been done about it for two years.
There are growing concerns that the aluminium cladding on the outside of the Grenfell building, which was destroyed in London yesterday, killing at least 12 people, helped spread the massive blaze.
The overall death toll from the Grenfell building is likely to rocket - with dozens of residents unaccounted for and many critically injured in hospital. Everyone on the top three floors are believed to have perished.
The NSW government began looking at the issue of what exteriors have been used on buildings in this state following a big fire at the Lacrosse building in Melbourne's Docklands in 2014, which had similar aluminium cladding.
About 300 people had to be evacuated at Docklands when a fire rapidly spread through an apartment block - but nobody died.
A report, obtained by the state opposition under freedom of information laws, identified that up to 2500 buildings in NSW may have the same sort of exterior. The report was made in September 2015.
But despite this estimation, the government still appears to have no idea of the precise numbers of buildings that have risky cladding - and appears to have done little in the two years since the report was made to enhance public safety.
One developer has told the Daily Telegraph that aluminium cladding which is now under the microscope in London is "common" in Sydney, having been imported.
"The Department of Planning and Environments note said: Preliminary data analysis ... has estimated potentially 1800 buildings," said the government report, made by the department of fair trading.
"This figure should be used with caution and further analysis would need to be done to have a more accurate estimate. For initial consideration a figure of 1500-2500 buildings could be used."
The figure related to buildings that fit the high-rise profile for potentially having the cladding.
In an eerie echo of what appears to have happened in London, the NSW government report said "The issues with aluminium composite panels primarily relate to multi-storey buildings and the potential for rapid vertical fire spread via the facade or external wall where inappropriate products have been used."
The precise cause and factors behind the London fire are being investigated.
Shadow Minister for Better Regulation Yasmin Cately said the government should undertake an urgent audit of all buildings in NSW suspected of being clad in the non-compliant materials.
"This Government has known for two years that up to 2,500 buildings might be clad in this material yet its response to date has been frankly disturbing," she said.
"We are at this point today where we simply don't know the dangers that are lurking in some high rise buildings because the Liberal Government is adverse to regulation or intervention."
In 2015, building union the CFMEU wrote then premier Mike Baird demanding an urgent audit of buildings in NSW. It does not appear this was done.
Referring to the Docklands fire, CFMEU national secretary Michael O'Connor said: "This frightening incident highlights that Australia has no mechanism by which it can verify if products made and certified overseas as meeting Australian standards, do actually conform.
"As a matter of urgent public safety we are formally requesting that you direct the relevant government department to conduct an audit of the use of this product."
The 2015 government report suggested that national laws or regulations would be needed to address the issue rather than NSW acting unilaterally.