In the last six months a string of major construction defects has been found in several relatively new apartment buildings in Sydney. The incidents have helped shine a spotlight on the construction sector and inadequate building regulation.
Many people are now wondering just how many other faulty buildings have been put up, and what can be done to stop it in the future?
The latest case in June saw an emergency evacuation of hundreds of residents from the Mascot Towers apartment block. The building was found to be sinking after big cracks started to show in some of the walls.
This came after people were forced out of their homes at the Opal Tower in Olympic Park last summer due to similar structural problems. Experts have now warned of a systemic crisis with the potential for similar issues to arise in apartment blocks in cities across Australia.
Initial investigations into the Opal Tower faults found that a weaker type of concrete was used that failed to meet national construction standards. The Mascot Towers had experienced leaks due to poor construction practices years before the evacuation happened.
It is clear that construction companies have used cheap materials to cut costs. Other experts suggest that building firms have also been using low-skilled non-union labour to maximise their profits.
This drive for profits has not only resulted in lower quality housing, but in cases like the Mascot and Opal Towers, people stand to lose their homes and their life savings.
Lack of oversight
For a number of decades there has been a lack of proper oversight of the construction sector. Deregulation has seen building inspection privatised and the number of inspections required reduced.
This work used to be done by local councils but now private inspectors are much more likely to wave through sub-standard work in order to keep their jobs with developers.
Both the major parties have facilitated all this. They have helped to create a situation where construction is done purely for profit rather than to provide people with safe, secure and affordable places to live.
In return big developers have funnelled huge sums of money into the coffers of the Liberals and Labor. Developers have donated almost $4.5 million to these parties over the last 5 years!
The Opal and Mascot Tower examples must be used to push for major changes. In the first instance people who have bought apartments in dodgy complexes must be protected.
The developers should be forced to pay for temporary accommodation, and to buy back the dodgy apartments if that is what the residents want.
If the buildings cannot be properly repaired, they should be pulled down and rebuilt at the developer’s expense. Governments must pass laws to make all this enforceable.
There is a danger that the developers will just close their companies down rather than paying out the huge sums of money involved. In that case the companies should be brought into public hands so that a proper audit of the books can be carried out.
We must find out exactly where all the profits have gone and they should be recovered from the owners, or wherever they have been shifted to. Taxpayers can not be left to cover the bills of dodgy developers.
Ultimately what these cases show is the need to build things for people’s needs rather than profit. Why should private for-profit developers be responsible for constructing major buildings in our city centres?
There is no reason why a publicly owned and controlled construction firm could not be established to build apartment blocks and other projects to a high standard. Inspections could also be brought back in house and we could focus on safety, longevity and sustainability.
A publicly owned construction firm could also build much needed public housing. In addition to dealing with the social need we could help to provide thousands of well-paid union jobs, including apprenticeships. This is the alternative to dodgy construction for profit.
By Triet Tran