‘Breathtakingly irresponsible’: Sydney mayors lash building controls

‘Breathtakingly irresponsible’: Sydney mayors lash building controls

Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore says a lack of independent certification has paved the way for buildings “unfit for occupation”.

The lord mayor of the City of Sydney, Clover Moore, has lashed the state government’s regulation of the building industry as “breathtakingly irresponsible”, saying a lack of independent certification has paved the way for buildings that were “unfit for occupation”.

On Monday, Cr Moore said the state had “removed independent certification and supervision of construction sites”.

“This has resulted in arrangements that have allowed buildings unfit for occupation to be released to the market and certified for occupation,” she said.

Cr Moore’s push for tighter regulation comes as the mayors of some of Sydney’s most densely-populated areas called for sweeping reforms to lift building standards and restore confidence in the residential apartment market.

The crisis in the city’s residential apartment market has intensified in recent weeks, as the Herald revealed owners have been prevented from living in a fourth Sydney unit block due to safety concerns.

The City of Sydney refused to allow owners to move into the Erskineville apartment building over fears the developer did not properly clean up toxic land underneath it.

The council defended its handling of that matter, saying a private certifier issued the construction certificate to allow construction to proceed. The Zetland block is also in the City of Sydney.

Opal Tower at Sydney Olympic Park, Mascot Towers and a unit block at Zetland have all been evacuated in the past 12 months due to major building defects.

Cr Moore called for independent onsite construction inspectors, and said that engineers and building professionals working on those sites needed to be adequately qualified and registered.

She said all buildings should be assessed by independent, third-party inspectors.

“This would ensure proper checks and balances that protect the environment and amenity, and address the conflict of interest inherent when private certifiers and inspectors are paid by the building contractor,” she said.

Cr Moore’s warning followed Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s remarks this month that self-regulation in the building industry has not worked.

Ms Berejiklian’s government is consulting until the end of the month on a “Building Stronger Foundations” reform package, which includes the creation of a building commissioner and the registration of more participants in the construction process.

Better Regulation Minister Kevin Anderson said he looked “forward to reading the lord mayor’s full and detailed submission in response to the NSW Government’s ‘Building Stronger Foundations’ discussion paper, which I am sure will not be missing given her public attack on private certifiers”.

The Labor mayor of the City of Ryde, Jerome Laxale, said that industry-wide changes were needed, but rethinking the role of private certifiers was “a good place to start”.

“I think it’s a deliberately under-regulated industry and that needs to change,” he said.

“I’d like to see a model where councils could ban certain private certifiers, with regards to poor certification, from operating within their local government area.”

The independent mayor of North Sydney, Jilly Gibson, also wanted tighter regulation of the industry. “I think [buildings] are being certified that shouldn’t be,” she said.

“The licensing of private certifiers needs to be overhauled and stronger action needs to be taken against those who turn a blind eye to building defects.

Bayside Council’s Labor mayor Bill Saravinovski – in whose local government area the Mascot Towers building stands – said councils were “feeling the pressure to rush through approvals” to meet targets for new housing development set by the state government.

“The decision on development applications should be made by local governments and any planning proposals should be considered by the council, not the state government,” he said.

“What the local government sector should do is get together with the state government and ask, how are we going to fix this process? Because we’re the ones who are going to have to monitor it.”

Cr Saravinovski also wanted tough penalties for construction industry professionals who breached standards. “If a builder or certifier knows there are heavy penalties, they won’t cut corners.”

The Labor mayor of the City of Canterbury Bankstown, Khal Asfour, said he had called for national building standards and had highlighted the “over-relaxed guidelines governing private certification”.

The Liberal mayor of The Hills Shire, Michelle Byrne, wanted better oversight of structural designs before construction began, and a better system to monitor building standards during construction.

“In the past, when councils were the only regulator, structural designs of complex and large buildings were often the subject of a peer review before the council would approve them.

“This can be expensive and something a private certifier may not be able to do, but it would give a better degree of confidence in the design if there was such a process on larger buildings.”

The independent lord mayor of the City of Parramatta, Andrew Wilson, said he supported the state and federal governments’ decision last week to develop a national building standards code.

“Effective measures will help ensure these kinds of issues do not occur in the future,” he said.

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