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More building sector woes as developers, projects collapse

A building industry in tumult was hit again this week, with Victorian apartment developer Caydon collapsing and major tower developments on either side of the country killed off, all while the industry regulator is being wound up by the government.

The heritage-listed Nylex Plastics sign above silos in Cremorne, Melbourne.
Failed developer Caydon was redeveloping the iconic mixed-use Malt District encompassing the famed Nylex Plastics sign, and equally historic malt silos.

In another horror week for the national building industry, a major property developer in Melbourne has collapsed, while in Perth a separate developer has terminated a $165 million luxury tower project and a 56-floor apartment complex on the Gold Coast has been killed off.

Caydon has been building apartments for more than 20 years but has become the latest in a string of high-profile building company crashes in the past year or so.

Joe Russo, managing director of the prominent Asian-backed developer, told media the company had endured covid lockdowns but current supply, labour and inflation issues were the final straw.

“Pressure on construction costs resulting in builder insolvencies and supply chain interruptions, and now the interest rate pressures and negative house price sentiment, has placed additional pressure on our operations,” Mr Russo said.

“It has been extremely difficult to make this decision, but to ensure the best possible outcome for all of our partners and customers, we have had to commence the liquidation of part of our Australian business.”

Tuesday’s news (26 July) follows the collapse in Victoria earlier this month of Snowdon Developments and family-owned Langford Jones Homes. Around 20 builders have gone into receivership since November last year and there are fears many more may soon follow.

Insolvency specialists McGrathNicol said Matthew Hutton and Matthew Caddy had been appointed receivers and managers of Caydon by Asian-based non-bank lender OCP Asia, which holds security over Caydon’s assets and properties. 

The Australian Financial Review described it as the biggest private developer failure since the fall of the Sydney-based Ralan Group and Melbourne's Stellar Group in mid-2019.

Among Caydon’s assets is the iconic Nylex site development in Cremorne. It has apartment projects under construction in Moonee Ponds, Preston and Alphington.

Mr Russo said two of Caydon’s projects, HOME in Alphington and Due North in Preston, will not be affected by the collapse.

“These remain fully funded projects that will continue through to completion,” he said.

Apartment peril

Just last week, two major tower projects were annulled by developers in response to the economic climate.

A 38-floor project in South Perth that was set to be the highest building in the area looking over the Swan River to the city skyline was killed off.

More than half of the 28 Lyall apartments had been sold off-the-plan. Those who had bought will have their deposits returned.

Sirona Urban had been scheduled to start building the tower block from April next year but cited building materials cost increases of up to 30 per cent as one reason for the termination of the project.

In Surfers Paradise, on the Gold Coast, Melbourne developer Central Equity abandoned plans to build the $500 million, 56-floor apartment tower, Pacific One, blaming the crisis in the building industry and surging construction costs for making the project unprofitable.

Highlighting the difficulty facing the building industry, Pacific One’s demise marked the first time in 35 years of operation, covering 85 major developments, that Central Equity had not completed a planned development.

Watchdog loses bark

At a time of turmoil in the building and construction industry, the Commonwealth regulator established to enforce special laws that govern the building and construction industry in Australia, particularly industrial conduct, is being disbanded.

The Albanese government has taken the first steps in fulfilling its promise to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), which was created by the Coalition government in 2016 to tackle alleged lawlessness in the construction sector.

Labor had argued that the ABCC was too politicised and pursued an anti-union agenda.

Employment Minister Tony Burke said he wants to see the ABCC abolished soon, with legislation to scrap the body to be introduced later this year.

The commission’s powers will be reduced to the bare minimum before reverting to the Fair Work Ombudsman and to health and safety regulators.

Denita Wawn, CEO of Master Builders Australia, said the building and construction industry still requires industry-specific regulation and oversight.

“This is particularly important at this precarious time for our economy and people’s standard of living when all Federal Government action should be about fighting inflation, protecting growth, and boosting productivity,” Ms Wawn said.

“Leaving the construction sector without a specialist regulator will fail this test,” she said.

“Abolishing the ABCC cannot be separated from the economy and economic management.

“Making changes to the industrial relations system is one of the strongest economic levers that any government has at its disposal and abolishing the construction industry watchdog will have substantial negative flow on effects,” Ms Wawn argued.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said the changes are about ensuring workers are bound by equal laws.

“What there should be is the same laws across the entire industrial relations system applying to every single worker,” he told ABC News.

“The way in which this particular sector has been singled out under the ABCC was not fair.”

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