HIGH risk classifications for 10 Newcastle buildings with combustible cladding, including Newcastle Courthouse and the University of Newcastle's New Space building, does not necessarily mean they are an actual fire risk, said the NSW Cladding Taskforce.
While the courthouse was classed as high risk in an assessment provided to Newcastle City Council early this month, in a statement on Tuesday the taskforce said it had been assessed and "does not have cladding requiring remediation".
The university New Space building in Hunter Street and its Advanced Technology Centre at Callaghan are "undergoing assessment to determine if they have cladding requiring remediation", the taskforce said.
"The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment is overseeing this process as the consent authority for the university's 'New Space' building."
The taskforce released the statement after Newcastle City Council was criticised at a building regulation parliamentary inquiry public hearing in Newcastle last week over its response to Fire & Rescue NSW advice in September about more than 40 Newcastle buildings identified as having potentially combustible cladding, and confirmation the courthouse and university buildings were on that list.
The council is yet to write to building owners, including residential buildings listed as high risk by Fire & Rescue NSW, but argued strongly that the number and list of potentially at-risk buildings was repeatedly changed and it had no jurisdiction over the government buildings.
The Fire & Rescue NSW referral "lacked detail or clarity and amount to an online register for property owners to self-report, without any specific process for confirming the accuracy of the reporting".
Inquiry chair David Shoebridge described Newcastle as "the standout problem" in the Hunter/Central Coast region for failing to respond to the cladding public safety risks exposed by London's Grenfell Tower disaster in June, 2017 which killed 72 people, but during the hearing criticised the NSW Government for "giving you (councils) the baby".
In an interview on Monday NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler, who spoke to senior Newcastle Council representatives in December, said the council was "doing a pretty good job" on the issue.
The taskforce said its cladding support unit had had at least 19 interactions with the council to provide guidance about cladding assessment processes and gain a shared understanding of Newcastle buildings requiring assessment.
"The cladding support unit understands that the council has developed a structured program for inspecting and assessing affected buildings and is currently implementing this program," the taskforce said.
By Monday 45 Newcastle buildings were registered by owners on the online Department of Planning cladding register because of the presence of potentially combustible cladding, with 10 identified by Fire & Rescue NSW as high risk.
"Buildings self-registered by owners on the online cladding register may or may not have combustible cladding," the taskforce said.
"To prioritise assessments of these buildings and assist consent authorities, Fire & Rescue NSW has inspected all registered buildings and informed consent authorities of those considered to be potentially higher risk.
"Buildings are assessed by Fire & Rescue and flagged as 'higher risk' and requiring further assessment if they have cladding in a quantity, location and/or arrangement which potentially increases fire risks.
"These buildings are not necessarily an actual fire risk."
The inquiry heard evidence from a Newcastle apartment owner whose owners corporation is already facing $1.6 million in works to repair long-standing defects, and was recently advised rectification work is also needed because of flammable cladding.
A building consultant engaged by the owners corporation told the inquiry the cladding was tested and "it is a pretty nasty flammable material in there" that was used for insulation but is "just a foam esky we are just nailing to the side of the building and those things can tend to burn".
"The problem we have got is dealing with it now," the consultant told the inquiry.
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