The Building Appeals Board of Victoria has handed down its determination of a compliance assessment for cladding installed at the Northern Stand of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The decision demonstrates a willingness by the Board to view cladding issues with an open mind and consider a performance-based solution, rather than simply requiring removal of certain cladding products.

In Issue

  • An application was made by the Melbourne Cricket Ground Trust (Applicant) to the Building Appeals Board (BAB) pursuant to s 160A of the Building Act 1993 to determine whether a proposed performance solution for the cladding arrangement at the Northern Stand of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) complied with the Performance Requirements CP1, CP2 and CP4 of the Building Code of Australia 2019, Volume One (BCA). The BAB recently handed down its decision permitting the retention of external cladding, including fire-retardant aluminium composite panels (ACP), with some relatively minor rectification work.

The background

The MCG is a Melbourne sporting ground institution. It consists of two primary spectator stands, the Great Southern Stand and the Northern Stand, which are linked but are treated as separate buildings. The Northern Stand was redeveloped for the 2006 Commonwealth Games and has a range of BCA classifications, its dominant classification being a Class 9b building.

In the midst of the ‘combustible cladding crisis’, in September 2019, the Applicant sought to determine whether combustible cladding had been installed on parts of the Northern Stand. It sent samples of the cladding to the CSIRO and engaged Dr Tony Enright, a fire safety engineer, to conduct a comprehensive survey of the cladding, and later, to prepare a fire engineering brief and report with a view to preparing a performance solution for the cladding.

Ultimately, it was discovered that there were 5 types of combustible cladding systems installed on the Northern Stand, including:

(a) four types of ACP – including fire rated products (FR) and 100% polyethylene core products (PE); and

(b) one type of insulated sandwich panel (ISP).

Additionally, the Northern Stand contained other combustible elements, including polyester insulation, photo-voltaic solar panels, decorative timber, and timber over-cladding.

The application

The Applicant undertook works to remove non-compliant ACP PE products, ISP products and some combustible insulation from the Northern Stand, and then applied to the BAB to determine whether Dr Enright’s performance solution complied with the Performance Requirements CP1, CP2 and CP4 of the BCA.

The performance solution was premised on further work being completed, including the installation of an external hydrant system, removal of fire-retardant ACP in certain areas, and removal of some solar panels. However, if approved, the performance solution would allow a number of combustible cladding elements to be retained, including timber elements, the photo-voltaic solar panels and the remaining fire-retardant ACP as originally installed.

The decision

Ultimately, after considering the parties’ submissions and a further report by Dr Enright, the BAB determined that the application satisfied the performance requirements CP1, CP2 and CP4 of the BCA.

In reaching its decision in relation to the MCG performance solution, the BAB appears to have taken into particular account the fact that all ACP containing 100% polyethylene core had eliminated the high risk associated with ACP, characterised by major fires around the world.

Further, the BAB noted that the products which would remain as part of the performance solution had been incorporated into an existing building, suggesting that the approach may be different for buildings under construction.

Importantly, the BAB acknowledged that:

Fire safety is not absolute and fire risk cannot be totally eliminated, although implementation of all necessary measures to minimise fire risk is required except where those measure are considered unreasonable. What may be considered unreasonable depends on each case and may include factors such as the cost, time or difficulty in implementation.

This is consistent with the BAB’s view that:

  1. it will be prudent to regularly review and make adjustments to the emergency management framework for the MCG where this improves the overall holistic fire safety for the MCG;
  1. safety procedures must be in place whenever pyrotechnic displays occur, including the engagement of a safety officer to attend, coordinate and take responsibility for the ignition of fireworks for the operation of any public pyrotechnic displays; and
  1. given the incorporation of fire brigade intervention in the design solution, an upgrade of the external fire hydrant system and designated fire appliance access positioning are to be regarded as a holistic consideration for the MCG’s fire safety.

Discussion and implications for you

The BAB’s decision appears to be a (further) step in the right direction by the BAB in balancing fire safety risks in relation to the use of cladding products which do not meet the BCA’s deed to satisfy test (DtS), with the reality that fire safety is not absolute, and risk cannot be totally eliminated.

The authors note in particular, that a previous determination by the Board, adopted a similar pragmatic and risk-focused approach in relation to a decision concerning the retention of QT Eco Series panels on a residential building.[1]

It is clear that fire safety protocols and the reduction of risk remain paramount when considering a performance solution; however, it is not the case that all products which do not meet the DtS test will require removal and replacement on each and every building.

Regard should be had to the steps to put in place to reduce risk, and obtaining and following recommendations by suitably qualified and experienced fire safety experts.

This article was co-authored by Mikaela Wheadon (Graduate).