Warning NSW construction crisis fix is still two years away
The NSW Building Commissioner has warned about the massive effort it will take and the major fix to the state's residential construction crisis is a lengthy two years away, as fresh cracks emerged in Sydney's troubled Mascot Towers apartment block.
In an interview with the Herald, David Chandler admitted he had been "a bit despondent" after visiting some "pretty awful" construction sites in recent weeks.
"There are some really regrettable things out there that abhor me," he said.
"We'll be in a much better position by 2022 once we've started to change the culture of the industry and get people back to what they should be doing."
His comments come as emergency crews were called to Mascot Towers in the city's inner south on Thursday night, after reports a brick facade in one of the towers of the evacuated complex had split.
Engineers noticed the cracking brickwork on the Bourke Street facade, which was taking "unintended loads" caused by the original damage to the building. Many of Mr. Chandler's measures to better protect owners from shoddy industry practices hinge on the Berejiklian government being successful in a renewed attempt to push its building reform package through the NSW upper house later this month.
"If I can substantially reduce the incidence of [building defects] and ensure that's not what's coming through the pipeline – that to me is the most impactive thing we could do," Mr Chandler said.
Residents of 132 apartments at Mascot were evacuated in June after cracks appeared in the building's primary support structure and facade masonry, stoking fears the building was unstable and unsafe for residents.
Mascot Towers owners' corporation spokesman Patrick McGuire said no bricks had fallen in the latest incident, and engineers had deemed the risk small, but it had a "duty of care to the public and we have acted to ensure public safety".
The damage followed the evacuation of the cracked Opal Tower at Sydney Olympic Park in December 2018. The damaged towers became a lightning rod for debate over construction standards, stoking a crisis of confidence in residential unit buildings and triggering a wave of proposed reforms to numerous structures around Sydney.
Mr Chandler said he had been "actively out there" on sites in an attempt to ensure owners and residents being crippled by building defects was "not the case for the future".
"We've set up a framework for a much clearer account of the parties. Until now that clarity hasn't been there," he said.
"At the moment there's no order - there are grey areas everywhere."
Former NSW treasury secretary Michael Lambert, who led a groundbreaking review into building regulations in 2015, said he had greater confidence in the most recent measures planned to rectify the shortcomings in building standards and to ease the tensions in concerned residences and passersby alike.
But he did warn the community that there would continue to be a risk over the next two to three years in the large strata buildings erected. "There will be dodgy brothers around building dodgy buildings," he said. ‘‘There is not a magic wand - I wish this process had been commenced some time ago."
Mr Lambert said the key to improving standards was developing a "risk-based approach" that targets high-risk developers, builders, and buildings and ensures they have insurance.
"For builders, that means professional indemnity insurance. It is about using that to try to put pressure on builders which are not up to standard," he said.
"The approach [the building commissioner] has adopted is sound."
The government abandoned an attempt to pass key legislation by the end of 2019, when it pulled its building reform bill from the NSW upper house as it faced defeat on significant changes proposed by Labor and the Greens.
The Greens wanted an independent building commission to support the work of Mr Chandler, while Labor was proposing the establishment of a professional engineers’ registration scheme.
Despite the setback, the government will return the Design and Building Practitioners Bill to the upper house in the last week of February.
Owners Corporation Network executive officer Karen Stiles was pleased the building commissioner was "attacking the problem on a number of fronts" but said "building quality is an absolute issue".
"Most of our members come to us because of building defects. I've had people crying, there are people who are suicidal about these things. We've got a long way to go," she said.
Warnings have been issued and it is essential that they are heeded for the betterment of society and the residents living within the surrounding areas. The total amount of buildings under inspection is currently unknown, but if they range in the hundreds it could take time before all are inspected and improved upon leaving greater risk and danger for the Sydney faithful.