The gulf between the English government’s approach to the cladding and build defects crisis and that of Australia were made starkly clear yesterday evening by Ted Baillieu, former prime minister of Victoria. The key points he made were the absolute importance of identifying the most at risk buildings first – which the English government has not done – and to ensure that efforts to sort the crisis are bi-partisan (ditto).
Mr Baillieu, the co-chair of the Victorian Government’s Cladding Task Force (2017-2019, emphasised that the failings that led to the buildings safety crisis in Australia, as here, followed years of regulatory failure by successive governments.
Mr Baillieu was speaking via Zoom at 5.30am from Australia in a conference organised by the London Cladding Action Group. The event also saw contributions from Mike Amesbury, shadow housing spokesman, and Bob Blackman, the Conservative MP for Harrow East who voted against the government over the McPartland-Smith amendment to the Fire Safety Bill on Monday.
Liam Spender, LKP trustee, also gave a resume of the LKP alternative funding proposal based on sector-wide levies rather than dumping costs on leaseholders:
Mr Baillieu, a Liberal politician (ie Conservative), joined Labour colleague John Thwaites, in co-chairing the Victorian Government’s Cladding Task Force in 2017 following a fire at a 23-storey block in Melbourne.
So to some degree, Australia was ahead of England in addressing build safety defects before the Grenfell fire in June 2017.
After the London fire, Mr Baillieu, who describes himself as an architect and also headed Baillieu Knight Frank estate agency, visited Grenfell, met Dame Judith Hackett and Sir Ken Knight, and visited the British Research Establishment, the housing sector’s privatised test and research centre in Watford.
How UK building regs were changed, which led to leaseholders being left with the bill:
Extra-statutory guidance and its role in relation to the Building Safety scandal – Part 1: Advice Notes
It soon become clear following the Grenfell Tower fire that many other high-rise residential buildings with cladding were also at risk. The government’s response has been to seek to make buildings safe by issuing instructions to building owners through extra-statutory advice notes (the “Advice Notes”).
The Australian task force assessed all blocks of flats above three storeys and “from the start decided that a risk-rated approach was absolutely essential”.
This is completely lacking in the English government’s strategy, where funds are doled out on a first-come, first served basis: the reason being that build safety team officials – 200 strong no – would have to resolve which buildings were most at risk and they are not prepared to be accountable for such a decision.
To fund the remediation work the Victorian government has provided taxpayers’s funds and a levy on developers amounting to £331 million, with loans issued to blocks of flats, which are owned via commonhold strata title by the flat owners.