London’s Grenfell fire was brought back into the collective conscience recently, when an apartment building in Melbourne’s CBD went up in flames, fuelled by the same cladding that caused the London apartment fire’s devastating effect. The fire spread over at least five floors of the Neo200 complex and pieces of the building were filmed falling onto the street below.

From its location on Swanston St, the flames spread through the middle floors of the building and could be seen from several suburbs away. More than 200 residents were evacuated as firefighters fought what they described as a ‘vicious and fast-moving’ fire. It took 60 firefighters more than two hours to extinguish the blaze.

While no one was seriously injured and no lives were lost, firefighters, council surveyors and safety inspectors have raised a number of concerns about the incident, they’ve expressed how lucky it was that the fall out wasn’t more severe. Upon attending the incident, Metropolitan Fire Brigade assistant chief fire officer Trent Curtin said the emergency response to the fire was escalated as soon as they knew the building had cladding on the outside.

The cladding is identical to that which was used in the construction of the Greenfell complex. “It is my understanding that the building is cladded [sic] with aluminium composite materials, the sort of cladding that was on the Grenfell Tower,” Mr Stephens said.

When asked about the dangers of that particular cladding, Mr Stephens said: “I probably don’t need to answer that, we saw what happened [in Grenfell] in London, back in 2017.”

MFB investigators also discovered that some of the residents had put plastic over their smoke alarms. “It’s been observed at this point that a number of occupants that have covered their smoke alarms with plastic in order to stop their fire alarms from activating,” Mr Curtin said.

The construction of the building was completed in 2007 by the LU Simon construction company, which is the same firm who built the Lacrosse building, which was devastated by fire in 2014 and also used the same cladding. Owners of the Lacrosse apartments are now suing the builders and consultants for $24 million in damages.

Concerns over the use of the cladding were raised following the Greenfell fire, which claimed 72 lives. Following the fire, the Victorian Government issued apartment owners more than 100 orders to remove flammable cladding and replace it with a more suitable material.

The Victorian Building Authority was aware, before the fire, that the building at 200 Spencer Street was fitted with “non-compliant cladding material” and referred it to the Municipal Building Surveyor. Following an audit in 2016, the MBS determined the building was “safe for occupation and no further action was required”.

“There are a whole range of issues that are undertaken to determine compliance with the building code,” said Adam Dalrymple, who led the MFB’s policy response to the Lacrosse tower fire in 2014. “In this particular building here, the fire services have real issues with combustible cladding, and our view is any building with an effective height over 25 metres shouldn’t have cladding on it at all.”

The Neo200 building remained unoccupied for 48 hours after MFB gave the all clear, by order of Melbourne City Council’s building surveyor and an emergency order. That order was extended following investigations and remained in place at the time of publication. While it was initially thought to only take two days to verify the safety of the building, that has stretched out to more than two weeks.

Residents are considering their options after they were told today that they may have to wait more than a year to permanently return to the building. It is understood at least 14 damaged apartments require “major works” following the fire, with those residents advised they should consider entering a six to 12-month lease in alternative accommodation.

It’s likely that following the emergency order, owners and landlords will remain out of pocket for some time and residents will have to secure alternative accommodation, which won’t be covered by strata insurance. In this instance, the Landlord Complete product would provide protection for untenable property or prevention of access by a government body for 52 weeks.

For any questions about the application of the Landlord Complete policy, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with a team member on (03) 8518 3036 or via the website here.