Coming to grips with the Building and Construction portfolio has been a bit like running straight off the bench into a rugby scrum — crouch, touch and engage!
My feet barely touched the ground under the ministerial table when our Northland mayors Stan Semenoff (Whangarei), Wayne Brown (Far North) and Neil Tiller (Kaipara) opted, via the Northern Advocate and New Zealand Herald pages, to loudly proclaim that the building code standards were “gold plated”.
It attracted the attention of the Prime Minister and we made the call to increase flexibility and tackle regulatory costs in the building industry.
It seemed the best place to start was to meet with the mayors in Whangarei where I was told the leaky buildings hangover was an unfortunate chapter in the building industry.
Howevere, their fear was that the baby was being thrown out with the bathwater. I agreed it was time to have common sense push the pendulum back to a finer sense of balance.
With that message ringing in my ears, I rolled up my sleeves and over Easter announced that I was taking a skill saw to the red-tape — it was time to remind ourselves of the Kiwi do-it-yourself (DIY) spirit.
Builders around the country also gave collective voice that some of the current regulations were causing unnecessary delays, especially around low risk work.
Up with the play now, I approved an extension to the list of building work that does not require a building consent, with these to be incorporated in Schedule 1 of the Building Act.
the removal/alteration of a wall that is non load-bearing and is not a bracing element,
alterations of dwellings for access purposes, including doorway modifications and access ramps,
internal shop or office fit-outs where the work does not modify, nor require modifications to, any specified system or means of escape from fire,
increasing from 30sq m to 100sq m the size limit of tents and marquees where they are for private use and to 50sq m where they are intended for public assembly.
The next step was to make a significant contribution to our Housing Affordability challenge. It was pleasing that Cabinet approved a new blueprint for starter homes which took into account the three Ss that were adversely contributing to the affordability issue — standardisation, simplification and (the appropriate selection of) size.
The blueprint brings together all the technical and compliance information needed to build a standard, simple, low-cost home in a single compliance document in a move which represents a horizontal cut across the entire Building Code in a way that is new to New Zealand.
Independent costing by a group developer gave us figures for building a simple home using this compliance document. They have indicated that a total build for a 120sq m house, allowing for double glazing, floor coverings and service connections of $9000, could be delivered for within $1400 per square metre — that’s a total of $168,000.
It also took into account a number of sustainability features, such as energy efficient hot water systems, good insulation, the optional use of rainwater collection systems and solar water heating. Naturally I would like to see even more savings.
Multiple use consents
Another contribution to the simple starter homes programme has focused on:
simplifying the design and approval of simple starter homes,
“multiple-use consents” for building work that is to be replicated on a large scale to be issued by the department and not local government,
reducing the number of building projects that need a mandatory PIM (Project Information Memorandum), and
reducing the number of building projects that require a building consent, based on the level of risk involved.
The building rules need the right balance, so while I had gone about creating flexibility to allow for the return of the traditional Kiwi DIY spirit, I couldn’t escape the very serious fact that we must ensure the leaky buildings problem never raises its ugly head again.
The industry and customers deserve safeguards, and those will be delivered through a three-pronged scheme — the Licensed Building Practioners (LBP), Building Consenting Authority (BCA) and Product Certification.
The primary focus of the LBP scheme which kicks into play in 2010 is all about lifting the quality and competency of the professional practitioners in the industry.
This will ensure that purchasers can be secure in the knowledge that their house was constructed by a qualified professional.
The BCA programme is to certify councils as having the professional capability to carry out building consent work, and is designed to snap-lock with the LBP scheme.
As many councils and their staff will attest, this is no easy process, and is conducted and reviewed by International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) to guarantee that quality standards are met.
At the same time, the product certification scheme, which will have joint trans-Tasman approval, aims to raise confidence in the materials used for construction.
Bigger game plan
Beyond this, the bigger game plan is to have district and regional multi-use consents issued by accredited Building Consent Authorities, while the issue of national consents will lie with the Department of Building and Housing.
There are a raft of other set-moves that I have put into play, such as the Residential Tenancies Amendment Bill which is designed to provide protection to potentially vulnerable tenants, such as those living in boarding houses and in some rented retirement accommodation.
I have also introduced the Unit Titles Bill to Parliament which will help apartment owners and bodies corporate to manage their property more effectively. It will also bring existing legislation from 1972 up to date.
At the same time, a new statutory Code of Practice for retirement villages, a document setting out the rights and responsibilities of residents and operators, is now open for public consultation.
It includes measures to protect the safety and personal security of residents, and will ensure retirement villages are managed fairly in the interests of residents and operators.
So, having got into the game at a cracking pace, albeit late in the piece, it is my firm belief that these measures I have put in place for transforming the construction industry will see the Government and the industry working closer together to deliver for consumers.