Australia

Opal Tower: Body corporate warns against return amid calls for building industry audit

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The debacle and confusion over the cracked Opal Tower continues as residents receive conflicting messages on whether they can return to their apartments.

Residents of Sydney's Opal Towers, who were forced to leave their homes on Christmas Eve, are facing more uncertainty over whether they can return to their apartments.

While the tower's builder has given many residents the green light, the body corporate is recommending people wait for more engineering assessments to be done.

A letter obtained by SBS News reveals how the engineering firm hired by the Opal Tower's body corporate is "reluctant to recommend that residents return at an early stage."

SBS News
SBS News

"Before Cardno (engineering firm) is in a position to even recommend that the building can be occupied in part, the Stage A stabilisation works must be fully completed and the investigations to confirm concrete strengths in the damaged regions must be complete," the letter states.

It also adds that "non-compliant reinforcing", which led to water entering the structure, needs to be confirmed as a one-off occurrence as opposed to a systemic problem."

Unit owner Jason Gao is among hundreds awaiting updates, he told SBS News deciding whether to move back was confusing.

"We heard some news saying 'okay people can start moving back' but the reports are not out, how are we supposed to trust that we are safe to move back?"

Unit owner Jason Gao.
Unit owner Jason Gao.
SBS News

His fears echoed those of Alisha Fisher, CEO of Strata Community Association - Australia’s peak strata body.

She said that while the evacuation of the Opal Tower highlighted dodgy practices in Australia’s building industry, the issues have been going on for decades and only an audit can fix the problem. 

“The bottom line is that the last 12 months have been a horror story for the construction sector in Australia,” she told The Australian.

“Like we’ve seen with the cracking at Opal Tower and in cases where buildings with flammable cladding catch alight suddenly, there’s no telling when Australian apartment owners will be next affected by poor construction.

“This is an issue of potentially epidemic proportion and we believe it needs to be treated that way with a national construction sector audit.”

She called the Opal Tower just the “tip of the iceberg”.

Chief executive officer of the Strata Community Association Alisha Fisher has warned the Opal debacle is just the “tip of the iceberg”.
Chief executive officer of the Strata Community Association Alisha Fisher has warned the Opal debacle is just the “tip of the iceberg”.
SBS News

It’s not the only warning about Australian building practices in the wake of the Opal evacuation.

Master Builders NSW's Brian Seidler told SBS News "there's billions and billions of dollars worth of construction happening in NSW and this is a most unfortunate and I think an extraordinary example of something going wrong."

And just last month, the Builders Collective of Australia's national president Phillip Dwyer said an overhaul was vital because a “she’ll be right” culture of regulation had allowed builders to cut corners.

"The actual regulation and compliance of the industry is nowhere near strong enough and that is the core issue of why we exist and why we are concerned,” he told SBS News,

“It is too early to say what the issues are with the Sydney high-rise but most certainly we are not terribly surprised that something like this could happen.

“There are buildings that have been compromised and there are any amount of builders and maybe even sub-trades and so on that really don't have the expertise to be doing what they are doing within our industry."

Residents of the Opal Tower were first forced to evacuate on Christmas Eve after the building started cracking.

Four days later residents were back out on the street, to make way for an investigation.

n interim report compiled by university engineering experts Mark Hoffman and John Carter and commissioned by Planning Minister Anthony Roberts stated it found “no evidence of any issues with the foundation of the building”.

“Our interim report will continue to support the view that the building is structurally sound," Profs Hoffman and Carter said in a statement.

An Icon spokesperson last week said it would continue to fund accommodation for displaced residents until at least January 16 or until all experts had agreed the tower was safe.

Master Builders NSW's Brian Seidler
Master Builders NSW's Brian Seidler.
SBS News

Developer Ecove’s director Bassam Aflak defended the building in a statement.

“It’s a high-quality building. Ecove has delivered a project that is well above the industry standard,” he said.

“The requirement from the Sydney Olympic Park Authority was that the building be high quality, and we have delivered on that. While this incident suggests otherwise, the contract with Icon specified that the building be of high-quality Australian design and construction.”

In December, he rejected accusations there was a broader problem in the industry and a culture of cutting corners.

“There’s been no cutting of corners,” he said.

Some of the apartment owners have flagged a potential class-action suit against whoever is found liable for the tower's woes.

 

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