More than one thousand Canberra houses affected by 'Mr Fluffy' loose fill asbestos insulation will be bought and demolished by the ACT Government following an in principle agreement with the Commonwealth Government, Chief Minister Katy Gallagher announced today.
The Commonwealth will offer to provide the ACT with a $1 billion concessional loan towards the cost of the program. The Chief Minister also released the report by the Asbestos Response Taskforce on the Long Term Management of Loose Fill Asbestos Insulation in Canberra Homes, which recommends the demolition of these homes as the only enduring solution.
"It is a clear recommendation from the asbestos taskforce report that the only way to solve the Mr Fluffy saga once and for all is to demolish affected houses. For Mr Fluffy homeowners, we believe this program will offer a fair and flexible solution which will remove the risk of loose fill asbestos not only to homeowners and tenants, but to the broader community," the Chief Minister said.
"This is a significant undertaking. We are talking about the purchase and demolition of 1021 residential properties across many of Canberra's established suburbs.
"Financing this work will cost up to $1 billion, with an expected net cost in the hundreds of millions. Due to the magnitude of this program we have asked for the Commonwealth Government's assistance to undertake this important work.
"These negotiations have taken some time, which I know has been incredibly hard on the homeowners, but I am pleased to advise the Commonwealth has accepted the Taskforce advice and agreed to provide a loan to underwrite the buyback scheme.
"Whilst the ACT Government did not get the assistance we had asked for, I thank Senator Eric Abetz and Commonwealth officials for their professional and compassionate approach to this issue.
"Today's announcement will give these homeowners confidence that the buyback will go ahead and that is the most important part of today's announcement."
The Chief Minister said the buyback scheme had been developed by the Asbestos Response Taskforce to provide a fair outcome for owners of affected homes and, as far as possible, flexibility and information so homeowners could make informed choices.
"Any program also needs to minimise the overall cost to the Canberra community while supporting affected homeowners at the same time."
The Chief Minister said participation in the scheme was voluntary. Through the program houses will be valued as if they were not affected by loose fill asbestos.
The Taskforce will work with homeowners wanting to remain in their houses on necessary medium term hazard reduction and risk management requirements, but long term habitation is not practicable or safe.
Once houses are demolished and blocks of land remediated, blocks will be made available to be for re-sale, with the original homeowner given the first option to buy back the block for their own occupation.
"We understand that many homeowners have indicated a preference to return to their block in the future. We have worked to balance this desire with mitigating the cost of this program to the rest of the community," the Chief Minister said.
The Chief Minister said community support throughout this program will be important and detail will be provided throughout the program to ensure all residents are aware of activity and progress.
"The Taskforce will also be arranging a number of community forums and drop-in sessions to allow questions on the technical elements of the program to be discussed in greater detail," the Chief Minister concluded.
Details of how the demolition and buyback scheme will work will be released next week with a view to finalising prior to the scheme becoming operational in January next year.
In the meantime emergency assistance continues to be available through the taskforce.
The taskforce report is available on its website: http://www.act.gov.au/asbestos-response-taskforce
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