Australia

NSW Government to introduce building industry overhaul to parliament this week

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The NSW Premier says the government is "getting to the bottom of what happened" as some residents are permitted access on Monday to retrieve belongings.

The NSW Government "will hold everybody to account" once the root cause of ongoing and persistent cracking in a Sydney apartment complex is identified, Premier Gladys Berejiklian has said.

Legislation to overhaul the building and construction industry would be introduced to parliament this week with a
view of passing by the end of the year, she said.

Roughly half the residents of a Sydney apartment complex will not even be able to return home to collect personal
items for at least a week.

Mascot Towers was vacated on Friday night after engineers became increasingly concerned about cracks in the primary support structure and facade masonry of the decade-old building in the inner-southern suburb of Mascot.

A consulting engineer has since determined different "access zones" to be in place for the next five to seven days, according to an update provided to owners and occupiers.

Sixty-four of the 122 units are in the partly-accessible zone and tenants have been told they "may be accessed for a short period of time to collect personal effects only with escort by the building manager" by appointment from Monday. 

All of the other units fall in the non-accessible zone and cannot be entered at any time, along with car parks and recreational areas including a Thai restaurant, IGA Express and a cafe.

Residents need to seek alternate accommodation and have been provided with prompts to Fair Trading NSW - including entitlements for strata owners and renters - and for those experiencing financial hardship as a result.

Engineers say the Mascot Towers situation was evidence change was needed in the construction sector.
Engineers say the Mascot Towers situation was evidence change was needed in the construction sector.
AAP

Ms Berejiklian told reporters on Monday that the government had been consulting "extensively" with the industry.

"I want to assure everybody that the government not only has been working hard behind the scenes, but we hope to have the law changed by the end of the year," she said.

"(We want) to give people that extra level of confidence that not only will people be held accountable, but we expect the highest level of compliance in addition to people sticking to those rules."

It was also anticipated a building commissioner, who will act as the consolidated building regulator in NSW, would be appointed by the end of 2019 or sooner if possible.

Ms Berejiklian said NSW has the strictest guidelines in the nation.

Residents of an apartment building in Sydney were forced to leave their homes.
Residents of an apartment building in Sydney were forced to leave their homes.
AAP

When asked if the NSW government would help displaced residents in the meantime, Ms Berejiklian replied: "We're getting to the bottom of what happened".

"The NSW government will hold everybody to account, that's our role," she said.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
AAP

While the cause of the cracks has not been determined, local MP and former mayor Ron Hoenig noted another apartment tower was recently built next door.

Mr Hoenig said he'd been advised there was no chance the evacuated complex would collapse.

Renters have been informed their temporary accommodation won't be covered by insurance while owners' alternate housing may also not be covered.

Resident's luggage outside the Mascot Towers building in Mascot, Sydney.
Resident's luggage outside the Mascot Towers building in Mascot, Sydney.
AAP

"It's a bit annoying to not really know what is going on and move at short notice but we'll deal with it," Mascot Towers tenant Jade told reporters on Saturday.

Another tenant, now living nearby with a friend, said he was effectively homeless after being given 75 minutes to leave on Friday.

Transport for NSW confirmed there was no impact on the airport rail line or Mascot train station, which sits underneath the complex.

In December, the Opal Tower apartment complex in Sydney Olympic Park was completely evacuated due to cracking and reports of movement.

Peak body Engineers Australia said Saturday the state "has been slow to move, but it is not too late if we start now".

"The Mascot Towers situation is further evidence that we need changes in the building and construction sector," Engineers Australia's Jonathan Russell said in a statement.

"It shouldn't take a crisis for government to act in the interests of community safety and consumer protection."

Ms Berejiklian on Sunday said she anticipated the government's new Building Commissioner would be announced in the "very near future".

Residents leave the building with their pet as firefighters evacuate the building.
Residents leave the building with their pet as firefighters evacuate the building.

Master Builders Association executive director Brian Seidler told SBS News it's yet to be seen whether the problem "is a question of building or design or under-design".

“The structural integrity will be assessed firstly by the engineer, who played a role in the design of the building and the architect, the other thing is who built the building, who was the developer, there’s a whole host of pieces that have to be worked out," he said.

“The building is 10 years old, is another issue, maintenance issues, there’s a whole host of things we have to be mindful of before a proper call can be made." 

Mascot Towers' building manager and strata company have been contacted for comment.

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