Our take on how to build a better New Zealand

RMBA chief executive David Kelly.

Registered Master Builders Association chief executive David Kelly outlines the Association’s outlook on how to build a better New Zealand . . .

A key part of Master Builders’ role is advocating on behalf of our members.

We want to ensure that we have the right conditions in place to support a well-performing sector that can build the houses New Zealand needs. That is the challenge for the Government and the sector.

The past few months have been very busy in the construction regulatory space. Now unshackled, the Government is making the most of its term and is instigating a wide-ranging reform programme.

As a result, our advocacy team has been busy, and has completed six submissions on proposed reforms in the past two months alone.

While all reforms have an impact, there are two issues that we see as crucial for the health of the sector.

The first is the development of the Government Policy Statement on Housing and Urban Development, and the second is the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE’s) proposal to alter the New Zealand Building Code to improve energy efficiency.

Designating housing as critical infrastructure

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MHUD) came into being on October 1, 2018.

It assumed the housing policy, funding and regulatory functions of the MBIE, Ministry of Social Development and Treasury (and nine Acts of Parliament) to coordinate the Government’s efforts to combat housing shortages and facilitate the provision of social housing.

We think this development in itself is a big step forward but one that has largely gone under the radar.

In the Master Builders submission, made on our members’ behalf, we recommended that housing be elevated and designated as critical infrastructure in the National Policy Statement on Housing and Urban Design.

Master Builders thinks this is the key to transforming the boom-and-bust cycle that has beset the sector for decades.

We think New Zealand’s housing policy has been too focused on treating the symptoms of our housing crisis, but not the important underlying cause.

With a new statement on Housing and Urban Development on the horizon, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for policymakers to rethink housing policy for New Zealand.

Designating housing as critical infrastructure would signal to New Zealanders now and into the future that the provision of housing is a national goal.

It would allow the Government and the sector to collaborate better, while putting housing policy on a more strategic, longer-term footing to provide a more consistent pipeline of residential and commercial buildings. This would be the circuit breaker of our boom-bust history.

If housing was elevated as critical infrastructure, governments could intervene more effectively during the bust cycles to help with continuity of housing supply, and leave the sector and the market to do what it does best during the boom cycle.

We also argued that designating housing as critical infrastructure needs to be “beyond politics”.

Instead of focusing on short-term electoral cycles and reactive policy making, the sector needs bi-partisan buy-in from both sides of politics to place the provision of housing on a more secure path.

Energy efficiency for housing and small buildings 

The Master Builders submission on improving energy efficiency in the New Zealand Building Code raised some of the unintended consequences of the MBIE’s proposed changes to the code.

They have proposed new build insulation levels increase to either half, at, or above, the current international standard. We think that will have a big impact on how we build, and on the long-term performance of what we build.

We need to ensure the settings and detail are right — that there is an appropriate balance between energy efficiency and buildability.

We are not convinced that the proposals as currently set out are addressing the right issues, and may inadvertently make it harder for our builders and more expensive for their customers. We don’t think this is a responsible move at this time.

Another unintended consequence we see is an increase in carbonisation from the new ways of building, and manufacturing of new materials.

We think this is significant enough to negate any efficiency gains from increasing insulation.

Our builders told us that investigating the carbon footprint from the proposed changes is important. We also know that thermal bridging, infiltration and ventilation are other big issues we have drawn the MBIE’s attention to in our submission.

Let’s be bold

These are two of the important submissions we have made recently, but please go to our web site to read them in full, alongside Master Builders’ other submissions.

The Government has an ambitious reform programme ahead, and we want to support the sector to play its part in conjunction with the Government to build back better.

For Master Builders and our members, this means taking a long-term, more strategic view, and not making the sort of reactive changes that we are all too familiar with.

While we agree that Resource Management Act reform, land supply and access to skilled labour are all important parts of the puzzle, addressing these with ad-hoc, incremental changes will not be enough to transform the sector.

Master Builders thinks being bold is the way forward, and the time to be bold is right now — and we will continue to advocate the sense of urgency our members feel about changing course.

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