Building Act reforms just the first step

Reforms to the Building Act announced by the Government seek to cut red tape around construction and modernise the industry, but builders say there's much more still to be done

New changes to the Building Act that will make it easier to use prefabricated products when constructing homes and clarify liabilities are only the first step in reforming the sector, industry leaders say.

The new policies, which won't even make it to the House floor until 2020, fall short of what builders were looking for. However, the sector still has hope that the Government will introduce more reforms in the coming months.

Even Jenny Salesa, Minister for Building and Construction, admitted as much. "There is plenty of work still to be done to improve our building and construction sector after a decade of neglect but the changes announced today are a step forward in ensuring we have a high quality and highly efficient building regulatory system," she said.

Changes will make a difference

There's no denying that the changes put forward by the Government will make a difference and they do have the support of most of the sector. David Kelly, the chief executive of Registered Master Builders, told Newsroom that "the announcements that have been made are helpful".

The highlight of Friday's announcement was a set of changes geared towards making it easier to use prefabricated parts in construction.

"In some countries, nearly 80 percent of newly-built homes are prefabricated offsite, in New Zealand it's about 10 percent," Salesa said.

In part, that's because builders need two consents when using prefabricated parts - one where the part or house is made and another where it is installed. Under the new changes, prefabrication manufacturers will be certified and consents will only be required at the point of installation.

On the flip side, the Government wants to see manufacturers and suppliers publicly release more information about their products. If claims are made about the performance of a given product, proof will be needed.

The Government estimates that these changes will help builders make the right product choices and install items correctly, saving up to $1.5 million annually in fees for inspection failures.

Penalties for violating the Building Act haven't been updated since 2004 and currently don't distinguish between individuals and companies. The reforms will change this, upping penalties by as much as a factor of 30 in some cases.

The sector is largely in agreement with these changes. A majority of submissions received by the Government on this proposal said the current penalties weren't strong enough to force compliance.

Much more is still needed

However, these changes are just the tip of the iceberg and the sector wants to see the Government come out with new proposals on a series of issues.

"There's a number of things that haven't yet been addressed and they've been acknowledged in [Friday's] announcement," Kelly said.

"My take is that [the reforms] will make some improvements but we need to move reasonably quickly on to the other areas that haven't yet been addressed."

In particular, Kelly wants to see work done "around other changes to the building consenting system and raising skills through the licensed building practitioner scheme".

While the cutting of red tape around consents for prefabricated parts will make it easier to use modern building methods in New Zealand, the rest of the consent system was still mired in layers of bureaucracy, Kelly said.

Moreover, Kelly doesn't see low penalties as the only thing fostering non-compliance with the building act. "Where people are flouting [the Act] and deliberately so, it needs a bit of a sting," he said.

"But in my view, the missing bit of that jigsaw is raising the bar for licensed building practitioners. The bar is too low for people to become licensed building practitioners."

As it stands, he thinks that low skill levels are more responsible for the turning in of subpar or unsafe builds than intentional non-compliance with the Act.

Friday's announcements were a step in the right direction, but only that. "I would have hoped there was something more than this but at least they're not off the table," Kelly said.

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