What is a Fire Order?
A fire order will be issued by council Pursuant to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and the Local Government Act 1993 and would be issued if the building is considered to be in an unsafe fire safety condition, and is lacking in a number of life safety areas.
Common Reasons Council Issue These Orders
Under the Acts noted above, Council have within their powers the options to give Orders to require upgrades or repairs to an existing building :
- “To do or refrain from doing such things as are specified in the order so as to ensure or promote adequate fire safety or fire safety awareness”,
- “To erect or install on or around a building such structures or appliances as are necessary to protect persons or property on or in a public place” and
- “To repair or make structural alterations to a building”.
These orders for repairs or upgrades generally stem from the below one of two key causes.
1. Compliance Upgrades
All new buildings are required to be fully compliant to the applicable Codes/Standards for the time they were built. As building codes and standards are updated over the years there is not generally a requirement for existing buildings to upgrade to meet the new standards through retrospective legislation (except for some exceptions). As a result of this many buildings exist which do not meet current standards and Orders are commonly given by Council to enforce the requirement for these items to be upgraded. An example of some such upgrades commonly seen in Council orders include works such as installation of emergency lighting, smoke detection systems through to major works such as hydrant systems, new access stairs or the like.
Where existing buildings have been poorly maintained, structures and services can reach a point of dilapidation where they fail to adequately perform their required functions. Scenarios where Council become aware of such issues represent another common cause for the issuing of orders for works to be carried out. Some examples of common dilapidation items include concrete spalling, failed retaining walls, failed structural elements, unmaintained fire services such as emergency systems, etc.
Notice of Proposed Order
Prior to the issuing of an Order it is required under the Act that a Notice is provided of the intention to give the order which should include:
- The terms of the proposed order, and
- The period proposed to be specified as the period within which the order is to be complied with.
These notices will generally also include a nominated time period (often two weeks) for any submission to be made either to avoid the issuing of the Order or to seek modifications to the requirements of the Order prior to its formal issue. We strongly recommend that Owners who have received such a Notice should seek immediate assistance if any doubt exists as to the requirements proposed. It is important at this stage to review the terms in detail to ensure that they are reasonable in both what is being requested and in the period given for compliance to be achieved. Where they are not reasonable a submission should be made to Council within the nominated time period outlining all requested modifications and the technical basis behind these. All items on a proposed Order are generally open for negotiation providing a reasonable basis for the request exists. Once an Order is issued however it is very difficult to have the Order changed and the only method of appeal is through the Land and Environment Court. Examples of such requested amendments to an order may include proposing alternate methods of protection or compliance from those specified which may be more desirable to Owners, seeking more reasonable time frames for items of major work if these have been underestimated by Council and even avoiding terms within Orders which may not be achievable/certifiable from a practical sense. It is noted that Council have the ability to Order works above and beyond the requirements of the Building Code of Australia and Australian Standards.
Once the nominated notice period has passed Council are required to hear and consider any received representations and can then elect to issue the Order either as per the original notice, as per the requested modifications or to not issue the Order at all if applicable. Once received the Order will list the required works or actions and the time periods for compliance and it is then a matter of proceeding with the works. It is noted that works instructed under such an Order do not require further development consent and can proceed immediately. It is important to act early to tender and commence required works as delays can place undue time pressures on the completion works often resulting in increased costs for the works.
Completion of the Order
Once all works are complete Council will require certification to be submitted confirming the completion and compliance of the new works. Once all certifications are received Council will generally issue a notice that the Order has been complied with and is now satisfied.
The best way to avoid your building become the subject of such an Order in the first place is to actively ensure that the building is well maintained and to consider voluntarily upgrading some systems to current codes. Works such as exit signage, emergency lighting, smoke detection systems, fire doors, etc are all relatively inexpensive, improve safety and can all go a long way to ensuring that your building does not become a target for Council Orders. Upon finalisation of the works, Council and the NSW Fire Brigades will require a Final Fire Safety Certificate to be issued for all fire safety measures within the building, reflecting the Fire Safety Schedule issued with the Order. In addition the owner is to ensure that an Annual Certification is provided to Council and the NSW Fire Brigade that all systems and equipment are being inspected, tested and maintained to the original standard of performance. FSP has an experienced team in dealing with Council Fire Orders. Contact FSP to discuss how we can help you with your Fire Order needs.