September 13, 2017 / 1:32 AM / 10 months ago

Australia's Westpac audits building projects after Grenfell fire

SYDNEY, Sept 13 (Reuters) - Westpac Banking Group, Australia’s second-largest lender, said on Wednesday it is conducting a safety audit of property projects it finances in order to avoid fatal incidents similar to London’s Grenfell Tower fire.

Westpac is asking developers of new and current projects to confirm compliance with relevant building codes, including fire safety regulations.

“Given recent concerns around non-compliant cladding we have commenced some additional processes,” David Lording, head of media relations at Westpac, said in an emailed statement.

The bank’s move follows the Grenfell Tower fire in June, which killed 80 people. A public inquiry into the blaze is underway following initial reports it quickly spread throughout the residential tower because of flammable cladding used as insulation.

Australia’s state governments are conducting their own wider review of residential and commercial towers that may have unsafe cladding.

Representatives of Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, and National Australia Bank did not immediately respond to questions about whether they were taking similar precautions.

Westpac reported A$51.4 billion ($41 billion) of commercial property lending as of March 2017, 6.65 percent of the bank’s total exposures, mostly in the states of Queensland and New South Wales. Commonwealth Bank, the largest of Australia’s four major banks, had A$70.5 billion in loans in the sector as of June 2017.

Westpac is asking developers to provide information about building certification, the type of product used for cladding, the manufacturing company, as well as whether the projects comply with the Building Code of Australia, Lording said in a statement.

$1 = 1.2458 Australian dollars Reporting by Paulina Duran. Editing by Jane Wardell and Stephen Coates

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