Where’s the risk?

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It’s time to do two things — two things that we have been saying now for some time that we cannot afford to dither on.
They are both on the Government’s radar (so they are not new or radical), but both are essential to ensure we can operate efficiently and build the houses we need as quickly as we can without hold-up or interruption.

Those two things are risk-based consenting and sorting out Health and Safety in residential construction. This editorial will look briefly at risk-based consenting and then I will discuss Health and Safety in next month’s issue

Those of you who attended our RMBF’s national conference in Dunedin recently heard me talk about this. We all know why councils are risk averse when you consider Building Consent Authority (BCA) accreditation, liability, re-insurance requirements, the legacy of leaky buildings etc — so who can blame them?
But interestingly, the very buildings that are the highest risk (should they fail) are the very ones that BCAs risk management practices default to the private sector to cover.
For those high risk and heavily populated commercial buildings, apartment complexes, hotels and the like, BCAs require peer reviews, producer statements and quality plans etc — as they should.

Yet the low-rise, low-risk residential homes are crawled all over, requiring endless paperwork, umpteen inspections and too much regulatory intervention for the risk.
Now some will argue “but look at leaky buildings”, and that is true. But we cannot continue to look through that lens as we will never make any progress.
We now have a new building code, LBPs, compulsory skills maintenance, treated timber and a whole raft of other changes to arrest that terrible era in our construction history.
It is time to move forward otherwise the Canterbury rebuild will be strangled — and we are seeing the effects of that already, with the Christchurch City Council unable to cope.

Why? Because we are trying to fix new problems with old solutions. Trying to get the hamster to run faster and faster on an ever enlarging wheel. The system was never designed to cope with such a paradigm — so change it!
The answer is already in legislation — risk-based consenting. For low-rise, low-risk residential homes, take off the regulatory reigns and let us builders get on with the job.
There is no increase in risk as these homes are low risk by design. And if other protections are in place there is absolutely no need for heavy BCA oversight, and the consumer can rest easy.

Why can’t we self-certify certain key stages in the construction process? Why can’t we introduce an accreditation regime for construction companies so that those that meet certain criteria are free to get on with it?
Imagine the savings it would make, and the impact on housing affordability and the speed of construction. Why can’t the process used in commercial construction be used in residential? No reason at all.

The regulatory regime needs to adjust, and not treat every new home as high-risk, not check every pencil that the pencil factory manufactures, but ensure quality and compliance by other means, such as accreditation by recognising a building company’s quality systems and processes backed up by home warranties, and complemented with an audit process to ensure those systems are operating.

We have to do this now, and it can be done sensibly without throwing the baby out with the bathwater — such as introducing it for all homes first with an E2/AS1 score of 8 or less and, once we are comfortable with the development of the regime, lift it to a higher threshold.
After all, most stand-alone homes in New Zealand don’t exceed this risk score, so the productivity gains would be immense.

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