The City of Sydney Council failed to act on a complaint regarding the industrial site at Burrows Road in Alexandria prior to the fire that destroyed the property in the early hours of last Wednesday, June 2.
The fire exposed an illegal boarding house for international students living in the inner city, the likes of which are becoming increasingly prevalent in the area.
According to City of Sydney councillor Irene Doutney, council relies heavily upon local residents to draw attention to overcrowded properties in the inner city area.
“We rely on residents to alert us because you can’t inspect every building all the time in a city with tens of thousands of buildings,” said Cr Doutney.
Council was alerted to the danger of the Burrows Road property by a resident but still no action was taken to prevent the fire.
“Unfortunately, contrary to City procedures, the complaint was not logged in the internal records system and was therefore not found or investigated,” a City of Sydney spokesperson said.
Cr Doutney expressed concern regarding the danger of these complaints going unanswered.
“The question to ask is how many of these reports don’t get logged. I think that will be a serious investigation council will need to undertake as a result of this fire,” she said.
City of Sydney Councillor Edward Mandla condemned council’s lack of action.
“The City of Sydney failed and there is absolutely no excuse. I actually think council owes the people living there an apology as they’ve let everyone down.”
“People nearly died this time,” Cr Mandla said.
“There’s a whisper going around council that even if we knew, we wouldn’t have had the power to do anything. That is rubbish – we have perfectly adequate powers of entry and inspection and we could have stopped this from happening.”
The responsibility to inspect properties which pose a safety threat to occupants and surrounding residents lies also with Fire and Rescue NSW, who similarly rely on resident complaints to be made aware of these situations.
Chief Superintendent Greg Buckley of Fire and Rescue NSW confirmed the department had no knowledge of the illegality of the property prior to the fire.
“We received no complaints about the property and the first we knew of the illegal situation was when we arrived at the scene of the fire,” Chief Supt Buckley said.
Cr Doutney said council must take immediate action to ensure better oversight of student and backpacker accommodations as well as to ensure no administrative errors are being made in regards to resident complaints.
“This has been a big wake up call for council,” she said.
“My first immediate thought is we need to do an audit of all the buildings. We need to find out what is out there.”
Cr Doutney said industrial sites such as the one involved in last week’s fire need renewed attention from council because they are not situated near enough to other residents for council to rely on complaints.
A City of Sydney spokesperson confirmed action would be taken following the event.
“The City has started an immediate review of all relevant procedures.”