A radical change to building laws could soon be introduced to tackle a cracking apartment crisis in Australia’s biggest city.
The deregulation of planning laws more than two decades ago has been linked to the evacuation of three Sydney unit blocks since December last year but there could be more.
With the apartment sector in a state a panic, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has declared the era of developers choosing their own private certifier would soon be over.
The Liberal leader, however, refused to entertain the idea of refunding destitute homeowners tens of thousands of dollars in stamp duty as they remained saddled with a mortgage.
A radical change to building laws could soon be introduced to tackle a cracking apartment crisis in Australia’s biggest city (pictured are the internal walls of Mascot Towers in Sydney, which were evacuated last month)
This month marks the 21st anniversary of building deregulation laws, which the Owners Corporation Network has blamed for the apartment safety crisis.
‘This is a classic example of government, over the course of more than a decade or two decades, has given the industry the opportunity to self-regulate itself and it hasn’t worked,’ Ms Berejiklian told Sydney radio 2GB broadcaster Alan Jones on Tuesday. ‘And now government has to step in.’
In late 1997, a first-term Labor government in NSW amended the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment Act so private certifiers instead of local council inspectors ensured building work complied with design requirements.
Craig Knowles, who was planning minister under former premier Bob Carr, had copied a system that had already existed in South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
In a political irony, a conservative government in Australia’s biggest state will be undoing a system that debuted in July 1998 under a centre-left Labor government.
While Ms Berejiklian has declared the need for re-regulation, she ruled out refunding stamp duty to stricken apartment owners.
The deregulation of planning laws more than two decades ago has been linked to the evacuation of three Sydney unit blocks since December last year but there could be more (pictured is a Mascot Towers resident carrying his belongings in June 2019)
‘The problem is we need to get to the bottom of why this actually occurred,’ the Premier said, when asked why they weren’t being refunded.
‘Until that is determined, it’s a very difficult situation and I completely empathise with the point that you make.’
Jones, Sydney’s top-rating broadcaster, was incensed at indebted apartment owners being out of pocket, with dwellings they couldn’t live in, rent out or sell.
‘If I go to Harvey Norman and buy a faulty toaster, I can return the toaster,’ he said.
Last week, City of Sydney council confirmed residents of 30 loft-style apartments at Zetland had been evacuated.
Last week, City of Sydney council confirmed residents of 30 loft-style apartments at Zetland (pictured) had been evacuated
Former New South Wales planning minister Craig Knowles (pictured left with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern) watered down building laws in 1997 so certifiers instead of local councils did quality control checks on new buildings
A decade ago, they would have paid $500,000 for these inner-city units, paying about $20,000 in stamp duty.
The developer has offered them less than half the original cost, or $200,000.
The Zetland apartments complex was evacuated in December, during the same month the 36-storey Opal Tower complex at Sydney Olympic Park was deemed unsafe to live in despite being less than a year old.
Only a month ago, the 132-unit Mascot Towers complex was also evacuated, with the owners told they would need to stump up $5million for repairs to the decade-old building.
In just seven months, there have been three major building scares.
On Christmas Eve 2018, thousands of residents were evacuated from the 36-storey Opal Tower at Sydney Olympic Park, less than a year after the 392-apartment complex was finished