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Firefighters question flammable cladding fix as legal concerns grow

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The firefighters’ union is demanding to know why the State Government has directed that some – but not all – potentially flammable cladding should be removed from the Adelaide buildings deemed to be at “extreme risk” of fire.

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Yesterday the State Government revealed the findings of an audit showing that seven Adelaide buildings were at “extreme risk” of fire because of flammable external cladding.

The audit was launched in the aftermath of London’s Grenfell Tower disaster, in which 72 people died after a fire spread rapidly up the building’s external cladding.

Infrastructure Minister Stephan Knoll said the buildings would be remediated by the removing flammable aluminium composite panel (AMP) cladding from around building exits, from proximity to balconies and away from the first three metres above ground.

State secretary of the United Firefighters’ Union Max Ablam told InDaily she was unaware of any regulator in the world that – after Grenfell Tower – did not insist on all of the potentially flammable cladding being removed.

She also said not all buildings potentially at risk from the AMP cladding have been audited.

“We’ve got buildings of 10 to 20 stories high that have not been involved in the audit yet,” she said.

“We’re not aware of any other regulator in the world that’s resolved to leave (some of) the panels in place.

“The regulator (the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure) is making some odd decisions.”

She emphasised that fire-fighters were well-equipped to deal with any potential fires.

“We certainly don’t want to cause alarm … our people are equipped,” she said.

“(But) around the world this is the only place we know of that’ saying that.”

InDaily contacted Knoll for comment.

Meanwhile, suppliers, designers, builders and insurers are all facing potential legal liability over the installation of flammable cladding on the Adelaide buildings now deemed to be at extreme fire risk.

Lynch Meyer partner Michael Hutton, a construction law expert, told InDaily several groups could potentially face legal action.

He said body corporate owners of Adelaide high-rises may have the right to sue the developer, the designer of the building, or the cladding supplier, for breach of contract or negligence. Other claims might be possible.

Hutton said high-rise apartments in Adelaide are community titled, meaning that residents own their individual apartments, but a body corporate owns the “fabric of the buildings”, including any external cladding.

Potentially liable parties could include “the person who designed it, and specified the material, and the person who built it,” he said.

“One question is, what rights does that body corporate have to recover damages.

“The designer may … have professional indemnity insurance.

“(But) builders cannot get insurance for defective works.”

Residents may also be able to sue if they are forced from their buildings for a significant period of time, or if the value of their apartment plummets.

“They could have a claim on the same basis against the specifier of the material, the builder, the supplier or the designer,” said Hutton.

“They may also have a claim against the body corporate (and) they may have claims under their own household insurance policy.”

InDaily asked state regulator Consumer and Business Services whether it had made enquiries about misleading sales of the flammable cladding.

“At this stage CBS has not received any complaints from consumers relating to the cladding used on apartment buildings,” a spokesperson said.

“If a complaint is received, CBS will follow standard processes to assess if there have been any breaches of the Australian Consumer Law and take appropriate action.”

InDaily also contacted the Property Council for comment.

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