As an interim report released today regarding the now infamous Opal Tower at Sydney’s Olympic Park has revealed that a number of factors contributed to the damage. NSW Minister for Planning Anthony Roberts spoke today upon the release of the report and indicated that a number of elements of the building were critically different to the approved design proposal.

The NSW Government appointed two structural engineers to investigate the building: Mark Hoffman UNSW’s Dean of Engineering and Professor Emeritus John Carter from the University of Newcastle’s School of Engineering.

“Significant rectification works are required to repair and strengthen damaged hob beams and in some cases, the panels that rest on them,” they said in a statement. “However, while we have isolated the problem cause to localised structural design and construction issues, we need more information to make definitive conclusions about the cause or causes of the damage to this structure and the proposed rectification.”

The investigators found the design, specifically between the beams and the columns on level 10 and level 4 — the two floors where there was significant damage — indicated “factors of safety lower than required by standards”.

The report has revealed that the building is considered “sound” but that it required “significant rectification works” to ensure that it met safety standards. Unnamed sources have speculated that the damage to the building may be the result of below-standard reinforcement concrete and that there is division amongst experts as to what has caused the damage. Minister Roberts would not comment on these remarks.

While the report by Hoffman and Carter emphasised that the building is structurally sound, private engineering contractors have been engaged by the body corporate on behalf of residents. Those engineers have said that they are “reluctant to recommend that residents return at an early stage”.

The concern at this stage remains for residents who have been in emergency accommodation since Christmas Eve when the damage was first noticed. They have refused to move back into the building as the rectification works remain ongoing. A spokesperson for the residents of the tower said that they “would like the professionals to be left to do their job” and reinforced that they did not want to return “to a site which has construction … until it is fully rectified and (is) fully complete and engineers have said on letterhead it is safe for reoccupation.”

Several residents have raised the notion of breaking leases, but they need to be quick to get in before the building is deemed safe again. NSW Tenant’s Union representative Leo Patterson Ross said he would be “shocked” if the tribunal didn’t side with the tenants under the circumstances, with the displacement of the residents. “Once [the building] has been investigated by some competent authority and declared perfectly safe for habitation, then you would lose the ability to claim that it was uninhabitable,” he said.

Residents have made the expected step of approaching legal counsel for a quote to represent as a class action. Maurice Blackburn lawyers confirmed that they are willing to take on the case on a “no win, no pay” basis, but that their legal fees would stretch into the millions, taking into account the likely length of the case and the prestige and expertise expected from the defendant’s legal team.

In a letter to clients and suppliers, Icon Construction reiterated that it had multiple insurance policies that covered the Opal project, including project-specific contract-works insurance worth $210 million, about $100 million in liability insurance, and $20 million in professional indemnity insurance. “We have received initial confirmation from our insurance broker that this incident is insurable and our policies will respond should the need arise, subject to ultimate liability being established,” Icon said in the letter. Investigations remain ongoing in order to draw “definitive conclusions”.

NSW Fair Trading has also announced that it will investigate the certifier of the building, and reassured owner/investors and tenants that due procedure under statutory warranty rights would be followed.

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