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October 16, 2019
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Australia’s Victoria state to spend $422m on replacing flammable building cladding

SYDNEY: Australia’s Victoria state has pledged to spend A$600 million ($422 million) on replacing flammable building cladding in the wake of London’s fatal 2017 Grenfell Tower blaze.

Authorities worldwide have grappled with what to do about buildings wrapped in widely-used cladding products that turned the west London apartment block in to a burning “death trap.

Victoria state will establish a new agency to disburse funds to owners of buildings for replacing high-risk cladding. Victoria is the first state in Australia to take the initiative and it is expected other states will follow.

“This isn’t just about safety, it’s about fairness for people who bought apartments in good faith and were let down by dodgy builders or dangerous building products,” Victorian Minister for Planning Richard Wynne said in a statement.

The Grenfell blaze had killed 71 people. It started on the fourth floor of a 24-floor building, ignited the exterior cladding and raced up to the top within half an hour, fire experts said at a public inquiry.

The cladding was made from a product called Reynobond PE, panels of aluminum with a polyethylene plastic core.

The fire triggered a regulatory response across the globe as authorities scrambled to discover how many buildings used such cladding and then figure out who should pay for its removal.

Lawsuits have also been filed in the United States against makers of such cladding, Arconic Inc and Celotex Corp, a U.S. subsidiary of French multinational Saint-Gobain.

In Victoria, a statewide audit of more than 2,000 buildings found nearly half of them had combustible cladding. Fifteen have been identified as in need of the most urgent attention.

“It’s a good start,” Trivess Moore, a lecturer in property and construction management at Melbourne’s RMIT University said of a total cost that could be as high as A$1.6 billion.

He expects other Australian states to follow suit, but also encouraged them to pursue developers, suppliers and others in the construction industry for finds.