The Lacrosse Building in Melbourne’s Docklands experienced a fire on 25 November 2014 that caused an estimated $5 million of loss. According to the Metropolitan Fire Brigade’s Post Incident Analysis Report (April 2015), the fire was started by a cigarette butt disposed of in a plastic container, and the rapid spread of the fire was added to by the building’s Alucobest façade panels (among other contributing factors). The MFB’s report also concluded that standard grade Alucobest façade panels did not meet the non-combustibility requirement of the Building Code of Australia.
Focusing on the question of how to make the Lacrosse Building safe from future fires, the building’s Owners Corporation put forward a proposal to manage the risk by enforcing strict occupancy limits of two persons per bedroom and better managing the contents of balconies.
The Metropolitan Building Surveyor rejected that solution and on 23 October 2015 issued an order for the owners of the apartments to take remedial action by 7 October 2016.
The owners appealed to the Building Appeals Board, putting forward an alternative solution that included installing sprinklers on the balconies without replacing the cladding. On 16 January 2017, the BAB rejected that solution and deemed that it failed to meet the performance requirements of the Building Code of Australia.
The BAB was only called upon to decide whether the alternative solution proposed by LU Simon was sufficient to meet the requirements of the Building Code of Australia.
The BAB did not decide whether any one party involved in the decision to use, specify or approve Alucobest cladding was negligent. Nor did the BAB’s ruling provide any guidance as to whether the fault lay with the manufacturer, the builder, the building surveyors, design consultants or others.
In other words, the key legal issues arising out of the Lacrosse Building fire remain unresolved for now.
What Happens Next?
Given the costs at stake (estimated in the media at $8.6m) the BAB’s decision is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court.
Should that appeal be unsuccessful, the high cost of replacing the cladding increases the likelihood of legal action being pursued in order to resolve the question of who (if anyone) is liable.
The Victorian Building Authority’s Industry Alert (updated 29 June 2016) provides some guidance on how to approach specification of aluminium composite panels (ACPs). You can find it on the VBA’s website.
informed subscribers and some Planned Cover clients can refer to our Practice Guides (formerly called “Risk Rules”) on Specification and Substitution. A recording of our November 2016 Product Specification seminar, featuring NATSPEC’s Richard Choy and architect/expert witness Peter Quigley, will shortly be available for purchase in our online CPD portal.
Risk Manager informed
On 16 January 2017, the Building Appeals Board (BAB) in Victoria rejected builder LU Simon’s alternative solution for managing the risks associated with the external cladding on the Lacrosse Building. What does this mean for consultants?