Getting it right for builders

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A key strategy for the RMBF is for us to take a lead role within the building industry around the critical issues it faces — including those that are legislative and/or regulatory.
We are heavily involved in working with a number of stakeholders, including Government departments, to help form and influence policy that is practicable and properly considered from a builder’s point of view.

Unfortunately for many of our builder members, this policy stuff can be more than a bit boring. Nonetheless, it’s still pretty important, so we thought we would give you a snapshot of some of the work we’re doing in this area.

Before doing so, it’s also useful to note that, for us to do this policy work successfully, we have to have good strong relationships with a broad range of organisations, stakeholders and Government departments.

This is so we can get our points across in a way that is comprehensive, collaborative (where possible) and which results in the best outcomes possible for the construction industry and for New Zealand as a whole.

So, as well doing this work itself, a lot of the background stuff we do is maintain solid relationships across a whole range of other organisations.
Building Practitioner Licensing

The whole area of Building Practitioner Licensing is obviously a big one for RMBF — and we have been working with the Government for some four years now on getting the licensing framework right, and also getting it ready for launching in November later this year.

Licensing competency standards

Each licence class will have its own set of competency standards — ie, what people have to know and be able to do to get their licence. Sign-off on the final competency standards has almost been completed by the various working groups (carpentry, site and design).
There are a couple of outstanding issues, mostly around the site lead role, but these should be sorted out in the next few weeks. 

Assessment process

We are working very closely with the DBH around the design of the assessment process. This process is more or less where everything needs to come together — the forms, competency standards, assessment tools and assessment process.
We have been putting a number of people through pilot assessments, so that as many of the wrinkles as possible are ironed out before the process goes public later this year.

Liability

One of the bigger issues we have been raising with the Government is the risk we saw around legal liability for licence holders, given the current requirement in the Building Act for Licensed Building Practitioners (LBPs) to “certify” their work.

The Government has agreed with us on that risk, and so changes to the Building Act have been drafted to clarify that LBPs will be “responsible” for their work, and have their licences at risk should their work not be up to standard. But they will not need to “certify” their work.
So, that’s very good news and a great outcome for the work the RMBF and other industry parties have done in this area.

DIY proposals

This topic has become particularly hot since the Minister’s announcement around the possible loosening of the restrictions on DIYers. We are working very closely with the DBH and the Minister to see if we can agree something that will work.

Our general position is that we are happy to support genuine DIY exemptions if they can be managed, but we do not think there should be a general exemption which would allow rogue builders to masquerade as DIYers rather than get their licence.
Tradespeople getting paid to build houses should be licensed — it’s that simple (see Building Today May 2007 for more on this topic).

Housing Affordability

There’s been a lot of press recently about how unaffordable houses have become. The Commerce Select Committee is undertaking an inquiry into the problem, and we have been liaising with the DBH on ensuring the terms of reference are sufficiently broad on housing cost research, so that it picks up the right issues that have affected house costs.

The RMBF’s approach to the Select Committee will be along the following lines:
• There has been substantive capital growth in the housing market over the past five years,
• Land prices have effectively doubled in the main centres in that time,

• Local government infrastructure levies/charges have risen over the same time from minimal cost to many thousands in fees for an average new home,
• Compliance and construction costs in the sector have risen as a consequence of the Building Act and the general response to leaky homes issues,
• There has been some cost increases from material cost increases and building industry salary and wage rate increases but, overall, these are not the key drivers of the cost increases (and, in our view, the salary and wage rate increases have been long overdue in comparison to other sectors).

We certainly want to avoid the presumption that builders are charging too much to build a house compared to five years ago. We know that’s not the case, and so we want to validate that to the Select Committee with some detailed research, which we are now undertaking.

Insurance/Liability Industry Reference Group

The RMBF has put quite a lot of work and effort into a DBH policy review exploring the introduction of compulsory home warranty insurance. We understand that the final paper is currently with the Minister for his consideration — with no indication, as yet, to when decisions around this might be taken.

Building Code Review

We are part of an industry group that has been giving input into the Building Code Review project, and it’s becoming clear that significant changes to the Code are on the horizon.
The DBH intends to release another discussion document in a month or so for further consultation with the industry, and is still on track to present the Minister a final set of recommendations in November.

On the one hand builders just build what the Building Code says is required — but on the other, we have a strong interest in making sure the Building Code doesn’t get too complicated, and that it doesn’t make house building too expensive, thereby impacting on home affordability.

Also in this area, we should note that the Government recently announced some energy efficiency enhancements to the Building Code, which it will implement ahead of the full-scale Code review.

Product Certification

The DBH has almost done most of the design work on a new product certification scheme, as required by the Building Act. In the short term, it’s not likely the new scheme will deliver everything the broader industry (designers, builders and local authorities) is looking for, and so we are involved in continuing discussions around the need for a second-tier scheme to fill that gap.

We’ve had some good discussions with other industry parties, as well as the DBH, and we have reached a useful consensus on what needs to be done.

Green Building issues

We participate in a wide range of green building issues and activities, including:
• The Green Building Council’s programme of designing green build rating schemes,
• EECA and solar water heating,

• Electricity Commission’s Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) programme,
• Smart Build web site, and
• Building Code/Business Council for Sustainability.

This area is a bit like the Building Code work referred to above.
On the one hand builders will build green buildings if that’s what clients want, but on the other, we need to stay abreast of this area so that we can fully inform our members as to what’s happening and help them keep up to speed.

Timber treatment/timber standards

We continue to advocate for two core outcomes regarding this:
• Ensuring timber treatments are safe to use, and
• Reducing the complexity of the timber treatment standards.

It looks like we have been gaining traction on both of these in recent months which should see improved safety outcomes pretty quickly, but will also see less industry confusion around timber treatment standards.

Building Consent Authority (BCA) accreditation/consent delays
We did quite a lot of work last year on building consent delays and BCA accreditation. We maintain a watching brief on the local authorities’ aim for a November 2007 BCA accreditation deadline.

ACC

We have been doing a lot of work collaborating on a joint submission process, coordinated by Business NZ, on an ACC proposal which would have seen more injuries added to Schedule 2 of the Accident Compensation Act.

The proposed changes to the Act would see more onus put on the employer to prove injuries such as hearing loss are not their fault as opposed to the employee as it is now.
The coordinated submission approach has resulted in the proposals being shelved for the time being.

That’s actually a great outcome for the construction industry. To otherwise have hearing loss issues automatically noted as being the employer’s fault would have been a huge onus on the industry, and we were able to usefully stop that from happening.

As you can see, there is a lot of activity happening to ensure we reach our strategy goals of proactive policy advocacy, and securing balanced and realistic building standards and regulations for the construction industry — and, hopefully, you weren’t too bored while reading through this list.

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