‘Risk of serious harm’: NT Govt ignores warnings over eight unsafe homes despite pledge to demolish nine others

by | Nov 18, 2021 | Business, News | 0 comments

EXCLUSIVE: The NT Government’s reported plan to demolish and rebuild a group of unsafe homes in Palmerston ignores at least eight related houses that currently present “a risk of serious harm” to the community in a thunderstorm, independent engineering reports obtained by the NT Independent show.

The NT Independent also understands one of the eight homes that will not be razed, despite posing a safety risk to the community of Bellamack, was sold this week to a new owner without the government issuing any notices on the property for non-compliance – meaning the new owner may not have been aware the building is not up to code.

The government was aware of structural deficiencies in the homes since 2014, but did not publicly announce the safety issues until April of this year, when director of building control Mark Meldrum appeared to downplay the severity of the issues by suggesting there “was no immediate safety risk” – a claim that was contradicted by the engineering reports he had received four months earlier that indicated a potential danger to occupants and neighbouring residents in a thunderstorm, not just a cyclone as he had originally claimed.

The 18 homes were part of a government-funded scheme under the former Labor government, that aimed to provide affordable housing to lower income earners and which saw the government take on part ownership of some of the homes.

Infrastructure Minister Eva Lawler and Mr Meldrum announced the government would demolish nine of the 18 homes last Friday afternoon, inviting only the ABC to the announcement, on the same day the NT Independent revealed the contents of the internal engineering reports from January that recommended demolishing all of the homes due to public safety risks.

It is unclear why Ms Lawler and the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics (DIPL) have still not issued an official statement about the proposed demolition, nearly a week after announcing it to the ABC.

The NT Independent can reveal a further engineering report completed in August by Acer Forester into five of the unsafe homes that will remain occupied, warned that due to structural failures, the roof, wall and floor panels could separate during a storm and that it was too difficult to predict “all of the possible failure modes and the wind loads at which failures will occur”.

“Acer Forester considers the houses … to be structurally non-compliant, to the extent that they present a safety risk of serious harm to occupants and surrounding neighbouring properties and residents from structural failure from high winds or high wind gusts that may occur during a cyclone, thunderstorm downburst or tornado,” the report stated.

“The only feasible risk management strategy, if it is desired to achieve such, is to mitigate the risk by moving occupants out of the houses with the threat of a cyclone and planning to eliminate risk by demolishing the houses without undue delay.”

However, DIPL has only indicated it is demolishing nine homes and rebuilding three which fall under a government insurance scheme called the Home Building Certification Fund. Another of those homes is owned by the now defunct developer Bellamack Pty Ltd.

The other eight homes, including those which were the focus of the Acer Forester structural engineering reports, will be left occupied while owners work through legal issues with NT Consumer Affairs, due to the homes being placed under a different government insurance scheme years ago.

‘Living in a ticking time bomb’: Rectification works not ‘practical’, contrary to Minister’s claims

The owner of one home that will not be demolished told the NT Independent it was like “living in a ticking time bomb” and questioned why the government could not demolish and rebuild all the homes in the interests of public safety.

“It’s ridiculous. I think the government should be stepping in not just for half the people, but everyone,” the homeowner said. “We’re living in this ticking time bomb.”

The ABC reported this week that Minister Lawler said the affected homeowners forced to continue living in the unsafe homes “were aware of the potential danger and had received copies of the assessment report”.

She added that five homeowners with action underway through the Residential Building Cover Scheme “could” receive up to $100,000 to “rectify their houses”.

However, the engineering reports show rectification works on those houses “is not considered practical”.

“Given the unknown extent of the corrosion within concealed building elements in each building, we believe that it would not be feasible for building professionals to certify that any upgraded houses fully meet the requirements of the NCC,” the report stated.

It also ruled out providing any temporary works to protect “neighbouring properties and residents from the houses”, suggesting the only way to stop potential debris from injuring people would be to enclose the houses in “an external webbing or netting system” that would require detailed investigations.

“Even after comprehensive design and investigation, the reliability of temporary measures to fully protect the neighbouring properties and residents could not be assured,” the report concluded, adding the only way to eliminate the risk was to demolish the homes “without undue delay”.

The homeowner said he had been fighting with the developer, the now out-of-business builder Titan Homes, and the government to have the safety issues addressed for nearly eight years now.

“The reason this whole thing has taken so long is that they’re trying to figure a way to get out of this unscathed,” the homeowner said. “The government, the developer and builder, instead of looking after the homeowner.

“I can feel my house vibrate in thunderstorms. It’s concerning there’s corrosion. At what point is the house going to fall down?”

Mr Meldrum said in April that “the buildings have issues, but I haven’t deemed them to be a risk to the extent of issuing orders or notices on the owners”. This was four months after he had received the initial engineering reports that recommended the buildings be demolished.

Title searches show the sale of one of the eight homes in question was finalised on Monday for just over $400,000 and that the government had not issued any notices that would have informed the buyer of its non-compliance.

Ms Lawler and Mr Meldrum refused to respond to the NT Independent’s questions.

 

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