Little action on demolition dust

By Shine Dighe

Largest-ever residential development on the former Age newspaper site in Spencer St is causing serious disruptions and health problems to residents and businesses.

Residents are frustrated that no one is taking responsibility for the air quality and it appears the authorities are passing the buck.

Residents, restaurants, shops and even bus shelters are all bearing the brunt of the dust.

Echoing their problems, 270 King St building manager Terry McKenzie, said: “We are suffering from sore throats, dry eyes and other respiratory problems. Some of the residents have started wearing dust masks.”

The residents approached the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), the City of Melbourne and local federal MP Adam Bandt hoping to find a solution.

Mr Bandt summed up the problem succinctly: “It has not been clear who has the responsibility to let residents know what is happening or to clean their homes.”

“The different groups are currently shirking their responsibility to maintain and enforce a safe worksite. This is not good enough. Residents deserve for the air around their homes to be clean and safe.”

The problem started around September 4, when residents noticed dust emanating from the demolition of 250 Spencer St.

They complained about the air quality and that the dust was impacting their health.

They also needed to clean their windows every day. Convenience store owner Victor Duarte said: “We are busy cleaning the store instead of focusing on the business.”

He showed CBD News a bucket filled with dirt he said was collected after just two hours of cleaning his shop. 

He said that, by the time he finished cleaning, his products were covered with dust again.

“We are losing business and I am afraid that, by the time the building is up, I will have to shut doors,” he said.

Although the EPA has acknowledged there was violation of construction guidelines (as the dust was leaving the area because it was not watered down) it washed its hands of the problem saying it was not within its jurisdiction.

The residents were ultimately told it was the council’s responsibility because it was a construction site, and that council should involve its environmental health officers.

Mr Bandt’s constituent liaison officer, Rebecca Tench, contacted site services at the City of Melbourne, which immediately undertook a site visit and confirmed there was excessive dust.

The demolition company, Guilfoyles, accepted this and agreed to get more hoses for the site. 

She again called site services on September 9 and made a further complaint, and was informed that a notice to comply would be issued, though it was never issued.

She said council told her it did not have an environmental health team and that this was the responsibility of the EPA.

Guilfoyles does not intend to contact local residents to arrange a clean-up of their properties until the construction is completed.

Ms Tench contacted Guilfoyles requesting that it arrange regular cleaning until the demolition was completed but it has not done so.

Mr Bandt’s office has also asked the council for substantive compliance responses on a number of occasions and for information about what action its environmental health officers have taken (as recommended by the EPA).

While an environmental health officer attended the site on November 14 and, despite being assured it would receive a response by Wednesday, November 19, nothing has come through.

With six Bates Smart-designed towers between 39 and 63 storeys, the Industry Superannuation Property

Trust plans to build 2994 apartments on the 11,755sqm site over eight to 12 years. The eastern portion of the 250 Spencer St site was sold in April 2010 to Central Equity.

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