Three strikes and you’re out:  Call for tougher rules on builders

By Meg Hill

Residents are calling on the City of Melbourne (CoM) to crack down on out-of-hours construction in the city, asserting that builders can break the current rules with impunity.

The council, according to limits set by the Victorian Government, can issue fines of up to $2000 for out-of-hours work.  

But residents said builders regularly start work before local laws allow because their cost-benefit analysis shows that time savings outweigh the fine.

A spokesperson for the council said: "The fine for carrying out illegal building works is set at the maximum amount council can set under the Local Government Act 1989 being 20 penalty units or $2,000. The Sentencing Act 1991 sets local law penalty units at $100."

Lendlease was fined $2000 for starting early on January 24 at its Charter Hall development on Lonsdale St, and the Brady Group was fined on January 25 for a breach at its nearby development on Little Lonsdale. 

The council spokesperson said three infringements had been issued to Lendlease and one to the Brady Group since February 2018.

President of local residents’ group EastEnders Jennifer Eltham said $2000 was a “drop in the water” to such companies.

“It should be three strikes and you’re out, the site gets shut for a week,” she said.

“These breaches of permit, associated with the Brady site and Wesley Place, are not isolated issues that are happening with only these two sites. It is happening throughout the city.”

“$2000 is nothing to construction companies. It offers no deterrent.”

Mrs Eltham said the CoM staff responsible for issuing fines were  as frustrated as residents, but had their hands tied.

“The City of Melbourne needs to have the powers to shut down a site when continual breaches of permit occur. ”

Councillor and planning chair Nicholas Reece said council had also required Lendlease and Brady to put in place additional operational measures to limit impacts on public amenity.

Other residents close to the Lendlease and Brady construction sites, who did not want to be named, told CBD News that the builders start early more than once a week.

On February 14 the council had issued 24 infringements for construction sites in the city this year.

As reported in CBD News in November 2018, the council was issuing fines for out-of-hours work at a rate of almost one per day. 

One resident highlighted that out-of-hours work was not just a nuisance for residents, but was also a workplace health and safety issue.

“If they cared about safety they wouldn’t make their employees operate a crane at 5.30 am,” the resident said.

Barring emergencies or specific permits, building work can only be carried out between 7am and 7pm during the week, and 8am and 3pm on Saturdays.

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