16 November 2017

Minister's loose talk leaves Edgar's owner fearing for his business

| Ian Bushnell
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Edgar’s Inn at Ainslie shops. The upstairs area has been cleared of loose-fill asbestos but the threat of demolition is still hanging over the business.

The owner of Edgar’s Inn at the Ainslie shops has been left confused, exasperated and fearing for his 16-year-old business after contradictory comments from Planning Minister Mick Gentleman about the future of the building.

Mr Gentleman had refused at a Legislative Assembly committee hearing to confirm that the heritage-listed buildings were safe after recent asbestos remediation, saying they would have to be demolished.

But not long after he tweeted that they were safe, citing the independent ACT Work Safety Commissioner. “Just like residential properties, commercial premises can remain for a period if there is an asbestos management plan in place, but the only enduring solution is to demolish affected premises, as will happen at Ainslie shops.”

Frank Condi opened Edgar’s in 2001 and it has become an Ainslie destination. Just when he thought his asbestos nightmare was over, with the building given a clean bill of health after loose-fill asbestos discovered in the second storey had been removed, he is again fielding calls from customers asking if it is safe to go there.

“I don’t really know where I stand at the moment, it’s hard to get a straight answer out of anyone,” Mr Condi said.

He said he had been told that the building was 100 per cent safe, and the firm that oversaw the remediation believed it was safe under the management plan.

“They’ve had testing under the building, air monitoring systems, there has never been any risk in the premises downstairs, and even while they were doing the remediation when they were sucking it all out, no trace was found,” he said.

Mr Condi called for the Government to clear the air and restore business certainty.

“Let’s get a decision, make it happen, and let’s be at peace with it,” he said.

“I was planning to be here for another 20 years. To potentially lose my whole investment is a worry.”

He also questioned whether demolition of the remediated areas could be isolated from the rest of the buildings.

“Where do you stop – a lot of these buildings are tied into each other. When you start knocking one down you start affecting the integrity of the one next to it. Do they all have to come down?

WorkSafe ACT confirmed that the only long-term solution was demolition of the affected premises but said it did not have a timeline and that under asbestos management
plans, which would be reviewed every six months, they could continue to safely operate.

“WorkSafe inspectors regularly attend the Ainslie Shops complex and are working closely with the owners and tenants of the premises,” a spokesperson said.
“The community can have confidence that the complex remains safe.”
The spokesperson said remediation of Shop 1 (above Edgar’s Inn) roof space and shop space was undertaken safely and was now complete.
“Shop 1 remains under a prohibition notice and is not occupied. Shops 3 and 5 will have remediation works undertaken of their roof spaces in early 2018. As fibres
were not found in the shop areas of shops 3 and 5, the shops are operating and their roof spaces restricted,” the spokesperson said.
“The roof remediation and Asbestos Management Plans support safety in the short to medium term with demolition of the affected premises the only enduring solution in the longer term.”
The spokesperson said WorkSafe would take the advice of licensed asbestos assessors if the shops cannot continue to operate under the management plans.

“As a commercial premise the owners will need to make a decision on demolition, informed by the management plans and other considerations,” the spokesperson said.

The Opposition seized on the apparent confusion highlighting what they see as Government hypocrisy on the demolition of Mr Fluffy affected properties.

“I say to Mr Gentleman, you can’t have it both ways. Why were nearly 1,000 Canberra homes purchased by the Labor Government and demolished, rather than home-owners being offered or allowed remediation so they could stay in their own home?” shadow Opposition planning minister Nicole Lawder said.

“As we have seen on multiple occasions from this Labor Government, it’s one rule for some, another rule for others. I don’t blame former Mr Fluffy home-owners who are feeling betrayed by the Government today.”

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