Apartment owners would be able to use taxpayer-funded loans to investigate whether their building contained flammable cladding under a planned ACT government scheme.
Owners and strata managers have welcomed the program as a step in the right direction, but say the government needs to go further and commit to a Victoria-style remediation blitz if it wants to actually address the problem.
The Barr government's economic recovery package, unveiled on Thursday, allocated $21.4 million to two cladding rectification schemes across the next three financial years.
A total of $19 million has been set aside to remediate potentially combustible cladding found on ACT government buildings during an audit triggered by the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017.
Minister for Building Quality Improvement Gordon Ramsay has repeatedly refused to publish details about the 70-odd buildings red flagged in the audit, including their location, but has provided assurances they were safe to occupy.
The government has long signalled a commitment to remediate territory-owned buildings, however, it has been reluctant to proactively audit private complexes, let alone pay for rectification works where flammable cladding had been detected.
While it did agree earlier this year to make attempts to identify the prevalence of cladding on private buildings, it has maintained that responsibility for fixing the problem rested with owners.
Its position remained firm despite calls to action from the construction union, ACT Greens and peak bodies for apartment owners, strata managers and builders.
But the government has now offered to extend some support to private owners via a $2.43 million loan scheme, included as part of the recovery package announced on Thursday.
Under the scheme, owners corporations would be able to access concessional loans to pay for experts to assess if their buildings contained potentially flammable material.
An ACT government spokesman said eligibility criteria would be finalised in the next six months, with applications expected to open before July 2021.
It has left the door open for the scheme to be extended to include loans for rectification work, not just inspections and assessments.
The spokesman said the government acknowledged that it was able to support affected building owners. But he made clear that owners corporations remained responsible for managing cladding risks on their property.
Owners Corporation Network president Gary Petherbridge said that in establishing the scheme, the government was belatedly acknowledging that it had "inappropriately approved" buildings as being fit for occupancy.
But Mr Petherbridge said the loan scheme was not enough to support owners, who would still be left to foot the "massive cost" for actually rectifying the defect. He repeated his calls for the ACT to follow the lead of the Victorian government, which last year announced a $600 million package to remediate 500 high-risk buildings.
"The last thing apartment owners need is their equivalent of 'Mr Fluffy' and surely this government learnt something from that disaster. An approach similar to that offered in Victoria is what is needed," Mr Petherbridge said.
Strata Community Association ACT president Chris Miller agreed that the Victorian approach was the best outcome.
But Mr Miller said the ACT's announcements was a welcome first step. He said the uncertainty surrounding the existence of flammable cladding on buildings had made it difficult for owners to secure insurance.
"While we suspect few of the strata buildings in Canberra will actually be considered high risk, the main benefit of this audit in the short term will be the ability for owners to finally secure appropriate building insurance," he said.
"Before this announcement, an increasing number of buildings were looking like they'd be uninsured and non-compliant."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.