I was disappointed in the comments made by Registered Master Builders Federation chief executive Pieter Burghout regarding the current Building Act (Building Today July 2006).


It was inaccurate and superficial.

The BCITO didn’t train 8000 builders – it trained 8000 carpenters. Historically the word builder means “being in the business of building” – that is, the person or company who supplies the materials and the trade labour to complete the building, including electrician, plumber, bricklayer, joiner, painter, carpenter etc.


The six states in Australia still have independent ties with the Crown and pass their own laws which vary from state to state. However, all contain a legal definition for “Builder” and “Owner-Builder”. Ours does not.


All states have set ways of dealing with buildings that go wrong. Western Australia and South Australia laws, which are more than 60 years old with only minor changes, do not require a large central or local government presence.


Western Australia has one industry licence with various classes, is simple to understand and cheap to run. New South Wales is considering removing the Building Practitioners licence because, except in rare cases, there is no contract between the consumer and them.


The major reason for the New Zealand Government to introduce the 2004 Act was for consumer protection. Of the buildings that went wrong under the 1991 Act, it would be fair to say that more money has been spent on legal bills than repairs.


The question is, if a consumer bought a house under the 2004 act that failed, how easy and quickly would they be able to get repairs done? The answer is “about the same”.


We have the situation in New Zealand that to go into business as a car dealer or a real estate agent one needs a licence and to arrange a bond.


It is possible to start up a house building company without any knowledge of building technology at all.


Information on Australian state law is on the net. However, it is necessary to understand what critical words mean in the various Acts, and to talk to someone in each state as to how the whole system works.


While it is not possible to go directly to systems similar to, say, Western Australia or South Australia or even other countries, what is becoming apparent is the cost of running the New Zealand system in staff and dollars as a percentage of a building’s total cost is high and cumbersome.


And if it doesn’t deliver for the consumer on the cases that go wrong then the 2004 Act will have a shorter life than the previous one.


Ray Lichtwark
Rotorua District Council

RMBF chief executive Pieter Burghout replies:

Thank you for your letter, Ray. You are right to haul me up on the use of the word “builder” as against the word “carpenter”. I will be more careful with my wording in future!


Your other points regarding the need to ensure the Building Act 2004 reforms actually make a difference to consumers are very valid.


Hopefully, the Rotorua District Council has been giving input to the reform process. We certainly have been as Registered Master Builders. Thanks for noting your concerns.


The RMBF has my congratulations on its ongoing efforts to raise the bar for the House of the Year competition, as described by chief executive Pieter Burghout in his Chief’s Chat column (Building Today July 2006).


As an architect I could perhaps be drawn to debating the relative merits of the “design” versus “construction” criteria but I am, in fact, writing to raise an issue with the sample scoring graph shown with Mr Burghout’s article.


While the graph is visually appealing I suggest, with respect, that it is rather misleading, and urge the RMBF to consider an alternative format.


There are two main reasons for this problem.


First, it seeks to compare “multiple criteria” but does not distinguish between work under the builder’s control (such as workmanship, finishing etc) and that often under the control of others (which may be design, selection of materials and products, location of site etc).


The graph shown would seem truly to apply only to spec design-and-build homes where the whole process is under the builder’s control.


Second, the line graph format adopted appears to compare quality or effectiveness in the different categories but, in fact, takes no clear account of the distortion due to the different weightings that have been attributed to the various categories.


Thus, at a glance, John Smith Builders (and, indeed, the entire industry) appears to be great at finishing but lousy at weatherproofing (gulp!).


Similarly, I could try to claim the moral high ground for my profession and suggest the graph shows that all builders score poorly on design skills (which may of course be true, but the impression is reinforced by your points allocation which rates design issues as unimportant).


I hope the RMBF can see its way to reviewing the approach to presenting this information and, thus, do better justice to your competitors and to your readers.


Lindsay Wood
WoodCo Architects

RMBF chief executive Pieter Burghout replies:

Thank you for your congratulatory comments, Lindsay. You can be assured that our House of the Year management committee has many long and hard discussions on the scoring system for entries and the balance between various scoring elements!


Your points are well made in that regard, and are duly noted. We are trialling the feedback graph to House of the Year entrants for the first time this year and, undoubtedly, we will continue to refine it going forward.


Perhaps our “mock graph” should not have scored weatherproofing so poorly! We appreciate your comments, thanks.


It was with the utmost dismay that I read the article titled Industry and institutes collaborate to solve major skills crisis (Building Today, November 2006).


The University of Auckland, the University of Canterbury and Fletcher Construction Ltd have formed a novel partnership to deliver a masters degree for construction managers, to “respond to a gap in the construction industry for highly skilled professional engineers with developed management skills. This ‘unique collaboration’ will ‘solve a major skills crisis’.”


What drivel. The major skills crisis among engineers in New Zealand relates to widespread low, and declining, technical ability and standards.


Exactly where are the large numbers of “highly skilled professional engineers” to come from to actually enroll in this “management” course?


The last thing New Zealand needs is another manager. The last thing New Zealand construction needs is another engineering manager.


The skills crisis can only be resolved by getting back to engineers who are competent engineers, architects who are competent architects and builders who are competent builders.


Sound construction management skills are just part of any well trained engineer’s arsenal, on top of a completely sound technical base.


Unfortunately, we have, throughout the construction industry, what former IPENZ president Tony Gibson rightly calls “management without content”.


Until such time as the overwhelming majority of New Zealand university structural engineering graduates are properly trained, and consistent high levels of professional practice and technical skill are the norm throughout structural engineering, and not the exception, the expenditure on any such “management” courses cannot be justified.


To make matters worse, on the facing page is an advertisement for the AUT University’s Master of Construction Management programme.


This is apparently “New Zealand’s first degree designed to . . . raise the bar for the construction industry.” 


What is required to raise the bar in the construction industry is the proper training of structural engineers to be structural engineers so that they can, among other things, ensure not only proper construction but, because they actually understand the job they are doing, get the low productivity of New Zealand construction sites back up to First World standards.


John Scarry BE (First Class Honours), ME, CPEng,
and tireless campaigner for a return to basic common sense in the construction industry

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