Shock reason why tower cracked
The NSW Government has vowed to get to the bottom of the Mascot Towers fiasco, days after hundreds of residents were frantically evacuated from the Sydney apartment complex when cracks appeared.
Speculation about the cause of the problem is beginning to centre on construction happening next to the 122-unit complex.
Local MP Ron Hoenig has made the shock suggestion the defect had nothing to do with the tower itself but was caused by construction next door, as owners were told they had just over six weeks to come up with more than $1 million for repairs.
"The building's owners corporation had been dealing with some cracking recently," the Labor MP for Heffron said on Saturday. "The building is 11 years old, and the state's engineers first initial suspicion is that the new building just completed next door, and is currently unoccupied, might have had an impact, although it is too early to tell."
Residents are beginning to point fingers at Peak Towers, two apartment blocks being built on Church Ave and adjacent to Mascot Towers.
A Mascot Towers resident told news.com.au the complex went up "very, very quickly" and described it as being extremely close to the existing structure.
The same Mascot Towers resident said she was often woken up by construction being done at Peak Towers, even complaining to the council when she heard builders drilling at 2am.
When NSW Police showed up to shut down construction, onsite builders showed them permits allowing them to do work on Peak Towers day and night, she said.
The construction of Peak Towers was such a nuisance, owners of Mascot Towers voted a year ago to pursue legal action against the builder Aland.
According to documents obtained by the Australian Financial Review, the firm managing Mantra Towers encouraged apartment owners to identify any issues in their homes.
"Due to the development of 27 Church Avenue many residents have experienced shaking of your units and you have brought this to the attention of the property manager," the note said.
In a statement to news.com.au today, Aland's managing director Andrew Hrsto said he was "proud" of the company's "strong track record".
Yesterday, Mr Hrsto maintained the speculation was "wrong".
"Until these investigations have been completed, speculation about the cause of the damage is unhelpful," he said in a statement.
"However, what I can say is that I am confident that Aland's work at Mascot has met design and engineering standards, and that Aland is very proud of this quality development."
Residents who spoke to The Daily Telegraphalso claimed the basement was "flooded" during the Peak Towers excavation.
One resident, named RJ, told the paper his apartment was "shaking" even during the initial drilling.
"Our building shook and cracked, even during initial drilling, but nothing was done to rectify or stop it," RJ said.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian addressed the speculation yesterday but said it was too soon to confirm the "root cause".
"There was some speculation it could have been from things that happened in the near vicinity, but we need to find out the cause before we know how to act," she told reporters.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Mr Hoenig said the building's owners corporation reported the problem to emergency services when the cracks "suddenly widened".
He denied claims Mascot Towers was the same as Homebush's maligned Opal Tower. The 36-storey tower in Sydney Olympic Park was evacuated on Christmas Eve last year after cracks started appearing in the structure.
Residents are slowly getting the green light to return to the Opal Tower, six months after the first cracks appeared, but 155 apartment owners are still waiting.
Mr Hoenig told reporters there had been no issues with Mascot Towers in its more than a decade of existence and suggested an "event" had caused the damage.
"It's not like the Opal Tower, which is relatively new and has defects," Mr Hoenig said.
"This building's been there for 12 years. There's obviously been some kind of event (that's caused the damage).
"Their very preliminary view was it might have something to do with construction of the building next door. That building's not yet occupied.
"The rail engineers said that everything to do with the rail line is safe and so are the nearby unit blocks. It's just that one building."
When asked if the State Government would help displaced residents in the meantime, Ms Berejiklian said: "We're getting to the bottom of what happened.
"The NSW Government will hold everybody to account, that's our role."
Half the residents of Mascot Towers will be allowed to return home today to collect personal items - but only under escort.
The consulting engineer brought in to assess the damage has determined different "access zones" to be in place for the next five to seven days.
Sixty-four of the 122 units are in a partly accessible zone, and tenants have been told they "may be accessed for a short period of time to collect personal effects only with an escort by the building manager" by appointment from today, AAP reports.
All of the other units fall in the non-accessible zone and cannot be entered at any time, along with carparks and recreational areas including a Thai restaurant, IGA Express and a cafe.
A document from strata management company Strata Choice, formally advising owners of a meeting on Thursday, reveals they will need to pay a special levy of $1.1 million to cover the emergency costs, equating to thousands of dollars per unit, by August 1. That is predicted to increase to $5.5 million by the time all the repair works are completed.
The document breaks down costs, without GST, into $254,000 for propping, $250,000 for engineering, $176,000 for legal fees, $100,000 for the estimated cost of the evacuation, $70,000 for new carpets, $5000 for a media consultant and others.
"Due to the recent evacuation of residents from their apartments, the owners corporation is required to perform urgent repair and maintenance to ensure the complex is safe and secure for all residents to return to their homes," the document says.
Owners of 24 properties within Mascot Towers have written a letter demanding further access to the building and information from engineers.
In an email to the building manager, Building Management Australia, Strata Choice and the executive committee sent on Tuesday morning, the owners said the "chaos" following the evacuation had put residents in "varying states of distress, not to mention extreme mental and financial duress".
"We have to express our disappointment and dismay over which the evacuation was handled; there has been a shocking lack of leadership and emergency planning when this crisis happened." The email took aim at a "lack of transparent and reliable communication" and the "callous and discourteous treatment" displayed by their point of contact at the resident's hotline.
The owners also asked for updates on the building's safety, and whether its issues were caused or aggravated by construction on the Peak Tower development next door. An update from building management on Monday night reiterated that a claim on the building's insurance policy to fund temporary accommodation had been knocked back. It has been reported that the building is too old for warranty cover.
Real estate agent John Higgins, who sold units in the complex when it was completed in 2008 and now manages 12 of them, said the building had experienced "little issues" but to his knowledge had been fine up until Thursday.
"I really don't know where the buck stops. I know this particular building, you know, there's compliance with everything," Mr Higgins told the ABC.
He said the State Government had signed off on the building, as it was in front of the train line.
"So it'd be interesting to see what the engineers can find out," he said.
"In the meantime, I've got lots of owners wanting to know what's going on, and I think they have a right to know what's going on, and the building management has been non-forthcoming in finding out where we stand."
Daily updates will be provided to owners via email, with a meeting of the owners likely to be held later in the week.
News.com.au attempted to contact Mascot Towers for comment.
- with AAP
Originally published as Shock reason why tower cracked