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Hon John Tamihere: Editorial Opinion Piece

Editorial Opinion Piece

Most of us don't know much about building. But we take it for granted the people who build our homes and offices do.

Unfortunately, as we have seen, that's not always the case. And when things do go wrong the impact on ordinary people can be devastating.

All building in New Zealand is governed by the Building Act 1991. Parliament is currently considering important changes to the law that guides all building activity in New Zealand.

In particular, government wants to ensure that every homeowner can have confidence their building meets the standards society expects buildings should achieve, and that consumers are protected.

The Building Bill proposes a major change to the way the industry operates in this country. It is about providing better regulation of building work, the establishment of a licensing regime for building practitioners and setting high standards for buildings.

The legislation includes the introduction of warranties to clarify the obligations of building practitioners and homeowners to homeowners who purchase building services.

The select committee has endorsed the government's proposal to extend the consumer protection in the proposed legislation to cover the purchase of homes from developers or speculative builders. They have included these new provisions in the Bill that has just been reported back to Parliament.

The Bill now proposes that a developer must get a certificate confirming the home complies with the Building Code before the sale can be completed. In cases where units or houses are sold "off the plan", this would mean that the developer has a big incentive to ensure the work is completed to the standard society expects buildings should meet.

Clearly, despite the high profile bad experience of some, there is a majority of skilled, honest people in all areas of the building industry.

The Bill will introduce a licensing scheme for building practitioners (or builders, designers, and some other building related trades), similar to the ones that apply to plumbers and electricians. The aim of the legislation is to make sure that building work is done or supervised by competent people. It will not hamper skilled professionals, but will ensure standards are high.

The Bill provides for a long lead-in time for licensing - five years - to allow individuals to meet licensing requirements.

From 2009 it will be compulsory to use a licensed person to do or supervise "restricted work". "Restricted work" will be defined in regulations, and is structural work that if done badly could lead to harm to people or buildings. Examples are the removal of a structural wall or the building of a high deck.

Initially the Bill proposed that if building work was below a certain dollar threshold, a licensed practitioner would not be required.

The threshold has now been removed as the criteria for what work is restricted should not be a dollar value but whether or not there is the potential that the work, if substandard, could cause harm.

Owner builders/DIYers will still be able to do non-restricted building work without supervision - for instance, gibbing, plastering, building low decks or fitting out a kitchen. But, from 2009, DIYers who do restricted building work will have to be supervised by a licensed person. This is to ensure that those who live in or use these buildings are protected, and that future owners are assured that restricted work was done or supervised by an appropriately licensed person.

The government has worked closely with the building industry in developing the legislation. The select committee has recommended a number of changes in response to industry concerns in the latest version of the Bill.

One important example is around providing certainty for builders and homeowners about the standards that are in place as the regulations and other forms of building control change.

The Bill now proposes that Code compliance certificates, which are the confirmation the finished building complies with the Building Code, be assessed against the provisions in place when the building consent was issued at the start of the building process.

This ensures the goal posts can't be moved in the middle of a project and focuses on getting decisions right at the start of the building process. It is a practical, workable solution to an issue that concerned many.

Industry and the public will also continue to have input into the regulation of the building industry after the legislation is passed later this year.

The chief executive of the new Department of Building and Housing will have a number of key responsibilities under the legislation. The Select Committee has provided for the establishment of an advisory group to help in meeting these responsibilities. The advisory group will provide guidance and support to the chief executive. It will be made up of specialists and experts bringing specialist technical, industry and consumer perspectives.

There will be public notices advertising how to gain membership of the group and members will be appointed for a term of up to three years. This is an efficient and effective way of tapping industry and consumer expertise and knowledge.

The provision of this group in the legislation brings extra confidence for the public and building industry that there will be transparent, specialist industry input into building regulation.

A strong building sector is crucial to New Zealand's economic prosperity and to New Zealanders' health and wellbeing. Government is committed to ensuring we all enjoy the benefits of buildings that are designed and built right first time.


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