'Just get on with it': Legal threat amid concerns over Convention Centre cladding
The State Government suspects some cladding used on the Convention Centre does not meet the original specifications. (By Lincoln Rothall)
Authorities believe part of the Adelaide Convention Centre is clad in the worst type of flammable aluminium panels, with no testing done to determine its properties.
- The SA Government is considering legal action against the builder of the Adelaide Convention Centre
- The Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS) has increased its response to fire alarms in the building because of dangerous cladding
- Fire experts are urging governments to fix at-risk buildings
This is despite the passage of more than two years since the South Australian Government began a state-wide cladding audit, and more than 12 months since discovering the aluminium composite cladding on the Convention Centre.
The ABC can reveal the State Government is now considering taking legal action against contractor Lendlease and architect Woods Bagot, amid concerns non-compliant cladding could have been used in the centre’s redevelopment.
Concerns over the risk posed by a fire has prompted the Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS) to send double the number of firefighting appliances for call-outs to the Convention Centre during business hours.
Infrastructure Minister Stephan Knoll refused an interview request, but a spokesman confirmed no testing had been done as the “Convention Centre has sufficient in-built life safety provisions”.
This involves internal sprinkler systems and evacuation plans.
South Australian Infrastructure Minister Stephan Knoll in August said the building’s cladding did “not pose a significant risk”. (ABC News: Nick Harmsen)
Threat of legal action against builder
The government body in charge of the Convention Centre, Adelaide Venue Management Corporation (AVM), wrote to Lendlease and Woods Bagot in August 2018, informing them of an investigation into the cladding and that they “reserve all rights and remedies” to take legal action to recoup the cost of fixing the building.
While Mr Knoll said in August last year the building posed a “low or moderate risk”, AVM has refused to release documents detailing discussions about the cladding because of the “serious risk” to public safety.
“The disclosure of information contained in the exempt documents may lead to a security risk and/or deliberate targeted attack on an AVM building/s which puts occupants and others at serious risk as well as causes significant property damage,” the corporation said in correspondence to the ABC.
Labor spokesman Lee Odenwalder questioned the State Government’s refusal to release information.
“If the risk is low, why is the Government not releasing documents?” Mr Odenwalder said.
“If there is indeed a risk then we should be seeing some very strong action.
“It is puzzling why they have been so secretive, and why this process is taking so long.”
AVM chief executive Anthony Kirchner said it may be necessary to do remediation work on the facade.
“It appears possible based on our initial investigations that some of the cladding may not have been manufactured in accordance with specification,” he said.
“Should this be proven to be the case upon conclusion of our investigations, then AVM, or another relevant Government agency … anticipates taking possible legal action to recoup the cost of any remedial works that may be required.”
In a statement, Lendlease said safety was the company’s “number one priority”.
“Lendlease has been responding to the enquiries of the South Australian Government as they finalise their audit of the Adelaide Convention Centre,” a Lendlease spokeswoman said.
A list outlining a dossier of briefings and emails identified through the Freedom of Information process shows the Government became aware of a “potential issue” with panelling used on the central and west buildings in July 2018.
The Government has previously refused to release information on the state-wide audit of cladding.
‘Just get on with it’
In a statement, the MFS confirmed the presence of “black core” cladding on the Convention Centre, but stressed that the material was not on all of the building.
Cladding that has a thin layer of aluminium over a “black core” is typically made of high-density polyethene that is black in colour.
This is the type of cladding that was responsible for London’s catastrophic Grenfell Tower fires, where 72 people died.
High-risk aluminium-based panels ignited on Grenfell Tower in London in 2017, killing 72. (Wikimedia Commons: Natalie Oxford)
The MFS, who form part of the state-wide response to the cladding audit, said sample testing of cladding would help determine the best response.
“Sample testing of cladding products, generally, would be required to determine a product’s exact material properties, and would better inform an assessment of the expected or likely risk to a building on which cladding is installed,” a spokeswoman said.
In guidelines issued earlier this year, Engineers Australia’s Society of Fire Safety recommended testing of existing cladding on buildings as part of an assessment, as design plans could not be solely relied upon.
Fire Protection Association Australia chief executive Scott Williams said it would take less than two weeks to obtain results from testing.
He said there were more than 10,000 buildings across the country that may have combustible cladding that needed to be assessed.
“The risk needs to be identified … where you can’t identify it, absolutely, there are certainly lots of cases where a section of cladding needs to be removed and a section needs to be sent off for proper testing,” he said.
“It is a very highly-combustible product, it is petroleum-based, and once it ignites it obviously spreads fire very quickly.”
Mr Williams said the slow speed in which authorities had tackled the cladding issue across the country had been “disappointing”.
“I think everybody’s frustrated at the time this has taken, and we can all point the finger and blame … but that doesn’t fix buildings,” he said.
“What we need to do is just get on with it and fix these buildings.”
Cladding on the Neo200 apartment building on Spencer St in Melbourne caught fire on February 4, 2019. (Supplied: MFB)
Lendlease ordered to replace cladding in Melbourne
Lendlease was the managing contractor for the $356 million redevelopment and expansion of the Convention Centre, with the first stage completed in 2014.
In the past month the company has pulled out of the $344 million Art Gallery of NSW expansion, and was booted by the NSW Government from working on the $729 million rebuild of the Sydney Football Stadium.
In November 2015, Victoria’s then health minister Jill Hennessy demanded Lendlease reclad the Royal Women’s Hospital after its State Government found a sample of cladding failed independent combustibility and compliance tests.
The cost was expected to be around $8 million, with the construction company bringing action against the architectural firm, fire engineer, and facade contractor involved in approving the non-compliant cladding treatment used on part of the building.
The case is still before the Victorian Supreme Court.
There have been at least two fires in Melbourne involving cladding — the Lacrosse apartment fire in Melbourne’s docklands in November 2014, and the Neo200 apartment building on Spencer Street in February this year.
Last year, the UK threatened to ban Lendlease and other property giants if they did not replace combustible cladding on buildings.
The company is expected to pay around $9.3 million to replace cladding on two apartment blocks it formerly owned in the city of Manchester, sharing the cost with Pemberstone, an investment company that owns the freehold.
The ABC has sought comment from Lendlease about the cladding used on the Convention Centre.