Australia tightens laws in wake of ‘cracked’ tower

SYDNEY: Australia’s most populous state said today it would embark on the “biggest overhaul of building laws” in its history, months after residents were evacuated from a recently completed Sydney high-rise apartment that made “cracking noises”.

There have been question marks hanging over New South Wales’ building and construction industry after some 300 people in the 38-storey Opal Tower in the Sydney Olympic Park were evacuated on Christmas Eve after the cracking reports.

Some residents have yet to return to their homes, while an initial investigation found there were a number of “design and construction issues” that could have led to the damage.

The building moved “one to two millimetres” during the incident and authorities had said they found a crack on the 10th floor.

The new regulations will require that designers, engineers and architects are registered, qualified, and held responsible for their work, in contrast to the earlier building code which only held builders accountable for any lapses.

A building commissioner will be appointed to audit their work, and changes to property plans in the construction stage will not be allowed unless further approval is given.

The new rules were drawn from recommendations from an independent report commissioned last year before the cracking crisis, but are seen as an effort to restore confidence in the sector after the public outcry.

“They (the report’s authors) found that there are national problems in the construction industry,” NSW Minister for Better Regulation Matt Kean said in a statement.

“We’re making tough new laws to ensure buildings meet Australian standards, and to guarantee that people who build and design buildings have the proper qualifications to do so.”

Master Builders Association NSW’s executive director Brian Seidler told The Sydney Morning Herald the changes were “very important” and a “very good set of reforms”.

The 392-unit Opal Tower opened last year and is near the site of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. — AFP

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