Skip to main content

Industry News

sb head

22 Jan 2020

Cracked Towers Spark Widespread Safety Fears About High Rises

Cracked Towers Spark Widespread Safety Fears About High Rises
The cracked Mascot Towers have raised safety concerns about high-rise buildings

Eight in 10 Sydneysiders have safety concerns about the structural soundness of several high-rise apartment buildings in the wake of a crisis sparked by the cracked Opal and Mascot towers. An Ipsos poll of residents for advocacy group the Committee for Sydney found the quality of construction and the structural integrity of towers was by far their biggest safety concerns, followed by fears of becoming trapped in a fire. Both easily outranked crime as major concerns, showing a massive problem with the maintenance of the building. 

Retirees, people aged 50 and over, homeowners and women are more concerned than the average of those polled about high-rise building safety, while men, high-income earners and those living in towers are less worried about the safety concerns of both towers. 

Of those surveyed, 36% were concerned and 48% a little concerned about the structural integrity of both high-rises. Only 16% did not have any safety concerns. The poll shows the recent structural defects in high-rises have dented people’s perceptions of the developers behind the buildings. Almost three in five – notably homeowners, retirees and those 50 and over – felt “a lot more negative” towards developers due to the problems.

Karen Stiles, the executive officer of the non-profit Owners Corporation Network, said there needed to be “root and branch reform” of the building industry to restore public confidence.

“We need rigour in the system to ensure that buildings are delivered fit for purpose,” she said.

Severe cracking in the Opal Tower at Olympic Park in December 2018, and the evacuation from Mascot Towers six months later, have stoked the fire of growing public concerns. Of the four in five people aware of the problems, 91% said they were a little or a lot more concerned.

Committee for Sydney chief executive Gabriel Metcalf said the appointment of a building commissioner in August, and reforms to make it easier for people who bought defective properties to seek damages, were important steps towards restoring confidence.

“However, all parties – government, industry, regulators – must work to rebuild public confidence,” he said.

An independent NSW parliamentary inquiry into the building standard practices will also resume next month. The representative sample of 1000 Sydney residents shows younger people are more likely than retirees and those 50 and over to support greater housing density.

Mr. Metcalf said it reflected a global pattern of results where younger people were choosing the convenience of denser living over suburban areas. This means demand for “in-city living” will keep increasing as well as the need for more urban development. 

The highest support for greater urban density is in satellite centers such as Parramatta, Liverpool and Chatswood, and outer suburbs within the Hills District and the Sutherland Shire, while the lowest support is in the CBD and inner city.

With Sydney experiencing a boom in apartment buildings in the past decade, support for greater density in people’s own suburbs has dropped. A third of those surveyed were supportive, down from 40% in 2018. The survey found people rated the best aspects of high-density living as a convenience and cheaper housing, while the worst were the crowded nature of developments and neighbors.

It also revealed confusion about the meaning of the term “medium density”, a term that prompted descriptions ranging from townhouses and apartments to low-rise buildings. NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes has been a keen supporter of a medium-density housing code as a way to increase the diversity of housing across Sydney. But the implementation of the code, which will make it easier for landowners and developers to construct terraces and other medium-density homes, has been delayed until July 2020 by which many restless heads will be focused on the safety of everyone rather than the money coming into the building redevelopment.