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Cosgrove: Senior Building Consent Officers' Forum

Hon Clayton Cosgrove
Minister for Building Issues

17 August, 2006 Speech

Working together for a World-Class Building Sector – Cosgrove's opening address to the Senior Building Consent Officers’ Forum 2006

Venue and time: Thursday, August 17, 2006, 9.30am
The Icon Room, Te Papa, Wellington


Introduction

Members of the Building Officials Institute of New Zealand; Tim Weight, Institute President, Chief Executive Len Clapham, delegates and representatives of – I am told - every territorial authority in this land. Good morning to you.

It is a pleasure to be here today and to speak at this forum to a group of people with such a key role to play in New Zealand's vital building and construction sector. And I don’t say that lightly.

Let me kick off, as all good things do, with a rugby analogy. You are the referees of this sector. That is your role. You apply the rules upon which the lawmakers, the developers, the designers, the builders, the subbies, and whole sector, rely.
And if you are the referees, then the Department of Building and Housing is the Rugby Union, in terms of its oversight role of the whole sector.

However, it is your specific role that I want to focus on today, and how it fits into the changes the government is introducing to transform and reconstruct the sector, and ultimately create a world class building industry in this country.

It is also, perhaps, useful to take the referee analogy a little further. Gone are the days when the referee in the middle operated alone. Referees today work in a supportive atmosphere, with touch judges and video referees there to help them get it right.

I like those images because they are clear and direct, but also because they touch directly on something that I am passionate about - the need for teamwork in the building and construction sector.

This Government is putting in place reforms to ensure that buildings are built right the first time – that all parts of the puzzle come together from design to construction through to the consent and inspection process. You are not here to do it alone. Neither am I. Nor is the Department of Building and Housing, nor any group or discipline or organisation in this industry. If we took that path, then we would be headed for underachievement at best, and failure at worst. And that is not what we are about.

I know from meeting with a lot of people in this sector in the ten months that I have been Minister for Building Issues, that there is a strong commitment to excellence. I have been struck by the personal and work pride of the professionals and tradespeople that I have met and spoken to. I have been hugely impressed by their concern for this industry and their baseline commitment to getting it right. Amid all the reforms that are going on – and I will touch on them with you today – it is that spirit and determination that will make all the difference in getting where we want to be.


Summary of changes

New Zealand's building and construction sector is undergoing perhaps the most profound changes in its history.

The new Building Act 2004 is aimed at restoring the balance between protecting consumer rights and enabling the industry to function effectively, that was absent under the 1991 Act. And in doing so, it lays the foundations of long-term strength in the building sector and, therefore, the New Zealand economy.

This is a suite of reforms that didn’t materialise out of thin air, or some desire to regulate and legislate. They came about for the very simple reason that there was a lot wrong with New Zealand’s building and construction sector in many areas, including some building practices and a lack of professionalism in some areas. Simply put, these reforms arose because things were not working.

So these changes are equally simple in a sense - they are about creating a world-class building and construction industry in this country.


WHRS

In May this year, I announced the Government's major shake-up of the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service (WHRS). The service was set up as a 'call to arms' to deal with a major problem caused primarily by the deregulation of the building sector and the deliberate destruction of apprenticeship training by a short-sighted former administration in the 1990's.

Although the WHRS was achieving successful settlements, it was often too slow and unnecessarily drawn out by lawyers and experts. As a result, the government allocated $30.5 million in this year’s Budget to put in place reforms that will stop gaming of the system, hold those who are liable to account and get leaky homes fixed faster. It is hugely important. It is about giving New Zealanders confidence in their homes.

Money has also been set aside to provide advice and consumer information to owners of leaky homes - a move that will lift consumer confidence in the housing market.

At the end of last month I went even further, announcing a series of moves to further enhance consumer protection, and to speed up mediation and adjudication processes. As a result, there will be a new specialist Weathertight Homes Tribunal administered by the Ministry of Justice, greater powers for adjudicators and a requirement for local authorities to place WHRS notices on the Land Information Memorandum (LIM) reports on affected properties. Of course, once repairs have been made and code compliance certificates gained, this information will also be placed on the LIM to show future buyers the building is in a solid condition.


Building Code Review

Also in May I launched the Building Code review – a fundamental look at how we build and what we build, and bringing it all into line with the requirements of the Building Act 2004. In a nutshell, the review is to make sure our buildings are top quality and meet our communities' needs and expectations.

The review of the Building Code is potentially one of the most important activities that will occur under the Building Act. Many of the other reforms involve raising performance, but the Building Code defines what that performance level must be.

The Government’s objectives are very clear: We want a Code that sets clear standards. We want a Code that enables innovation without compromising confidence in the standards achieved. We want building standards that allow for different levels of performance in different environments, based on risks and consequences.

As building officials – as the referees - you need to know this, and it is in your own interests, and the country’s, that you help shape the Code. This comes into your area of expertise because there wouldn’t be a lot you haven’t seen - you know what works and what doesn’t, and it is for all of those reasons that the government would like your contribution.

The review's discussion document, Building for the 21st Century: Review of the Building Code, brings together many different kinds of expectation. It asks questions about what we want. What we need. What we can afford. What we should plan for. How we can best respond to our changing physical and social realities.

Buildings need to meet the needs of New Zealanders. That seems straightforward. They need to be safe. They need to be warm. They need to be durable. They need to be healthy and energy efficient. But how safe? How warm? How energy efficient? Strong enough to withstand a 6.5 earthquake? An 8.5? Durable enough to last 50 years? One hundred years?

Auckland has a different climate and living patterns from Invercargill – how should an Auckland apartment reflect that versus an Invercargill house? How do we plan for climate change over time?

Buildings have economic costs attached to them. Anyone with a mortgage or a power bill knows that. How do you balance upfront costs with long-term benefits – in energy efficiency, for example, where you can get years of healthier living and cheaper power bills by doing things smarter at the start, even if it might cost a bit more in the beginning?

You, as building officials, know the importance of thinking ahead, of focusing on the long-term implications, costs and opportunities, and not just the immediate needs of a developer or a house-buyer.

This is a debate that needs the very best thinking and knowledge New Zealand has to offer, and it is on that basis that I will take this opportunity to remind you that submissions to the Department of Building and Housing on the Building Code Review close two weeks from today, on August 31. So, for those of you who haven’t made submissions yet and want to make a contribution, I strongly encourage you to do so.


Occupational Licensing

In April, I announced a watershed change with the introduction of licensing for those who design and build. This is a substantial area of interest for you as a group, because you are the ones who see first hand the so-called "handiwork" of the cowboys who unfortunately do operate in the sector and who give the professionals a bad name.

At present there is nothing to stop anyone strapping on a tool-belt and calling themselves a builder, regardless of whether they are competent or not. This has contributed to problems such as non-weathertight homes, and lowered public confidence in the sector.

Licensing will give recognition where it is due - to the many excellent building professionals out there. The public will have the reassurance of knowing that licensed building practitioners have the skills to meet national professional standards in building and design. And those who are not licensed will have their work overseen by those who are.

The new licensing regime is balanced against the Government's wish to protect the Kiwi D-I-Y (Do-It-Yourself) tradition. Kiwis will still be able to build a deck, remodel the kitchen or put up a new shed for example. In fact they will be able to do most of the work they do now. And from the positive public response we have had, I think we have got the balance about right.

Indeed, the licensing regime has been roundly welcomed on many fronts, and notably by organisations such as the Association of Consulting Engineers New Zealand, Architectural Designers New Zealand, the Institute of Professional Engineers New Zealand, the Registered Master Builders, the Construction Industry Council and the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation, who have all publicly backed these reforms.

The thinking underpinning occupational licensing, for both design and building, is about getting it right the first time. Changes are afoot in the way we design and construct our buildings, both residential and non-residential. The licensing system aims to support and spread good practice among designers, builders, building sector specialists and tradespeople.

As building officials, you know what is at stake here, and why it is crucial that we do get things right the first time. You know that when you talk costs in building and construction, you are talking big money in a very big industry. In 2005 there was $9.8 billion of capital investment in residential building, and a further $4.2 billion in non-residential. This construction underpins our economy, employing more than 160,000 people – that is around 8 percent of the total number of people employed, and contributing around 5 percent of Gross Domestic Product.

The good news for you is that the licensing regime will make your work as building officials easier. The design lead role will mean that you can expect to get more complete and consistent building consent applications to process, while the site lead role will mean that building inspectors will have a clear point of contact on a building site. It is about clarity and clear lines of accountability.

Competence standards and ongoing learning requirements will improve the quality of design and construction work being done – again lifting the game of those who you work and liaise with on a daily basis.

And if you have concerns about practitioners who consistently fail to meet licensing standards, you, as building officials, will have recourse to the Building Practitioner’s Board complaints process. That is another backstop, another way of making sure the high standards we demand, are delivered.

In short, you will be able to place more trust in the work of licensed building practitioners. And if there are any design and site leads who have a ‘what can I get past the council’ mentality, they will simply have to change; they will have to ultimately take more responsibility for the quality of their work.


Building Consent Authority Accreditation

These are all crucial changes, but for you, as building officials, the building consent authority (BCA) accreditation process will be the most significant. As you know, under the Building Act 2004, only registered building consent authorities will be allowed to undertake building consent processing work, building inspections and consent approval functions from November 31 next year.

A prerequisite for registration as a BCA will be meeting a set of standards and criteria which will be prescribed in regulations. These regulations are currently being developed. The aim is to have them in place by 30 November 2006.

Your Role

Clearly, there are new challenges to be met, and implemented. And you will play a critical role in ensuring that the reforms and improved standards being introduced are ultimately reflected in our buildings and our houses.

The Government has taken huge steps towards updating and professionalising the whole building and construction sector. The reforms that have been put in place are inter-dependent, so the whole sector must work together. For example, there is not much use having excellent construction crews if the basic building design is faulty, and vice versa.

In that context I can tell you that your professional skills and abilities as building officials are critical to the success of the whole system. Your ability to work with others and to be open to new ideas has never been more important than it is today, in helping to move the sector forward.

The BCA accreditation process is about the efficiency of your organisations and you as professionals performing to new and improved standards. Your level of commitment to the changes and what is being sought for the sector has to be of a very high level. Along with every other major player in this sector, if you don’t perform, the whole process could fall down. The BCA accreditation process will give you the support, the tools and the structures to help you perform better, and for the sector to work as it should.

The Department of Building and Housing has an important role to play, but it is no panacea for all that ails the sector and it never will be. The Department will provide the framework and support, but the regulatory decisions need to be made by territorial authorities and BCAs – and in reality that means you.

For your part, you should expect the territorial authorities that you work for to support you with better systems, resources and increased training to allow you to do your job at the highest level possible – in fact, the new regime will require that of them.


Latest Developments

You will be as aware, as I am, that the BCA accreditation deadline is just 15 months away, so let me update you on some recent developments that are all part of making it happen.

The Department recently announced the appointment of International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) as the building consent accreditation body for the scheme. It will be responsible for the accreditation assessments of organisations seeking to become building consent authorities. It is a good move, as IANZ is internationally recognised as a leader in accreditation and quality assurance services.

I can tell you also that the Department of Building and Housing is finalising work for Cabinet decisions on the detail of the standards and criteria, and we are aiming for a November timeframe.

I am also very happy to see developments in the sector among your organisations, with a number of territorial authorities forming clusters and sharing services as they prepare for the changes. The concept of shared services is not a new one in local government and there are clearly significant benefits involved in territorial authorities doing this in the lead-up to accreditation.

The Department recently surveyed seven such clusters and found positive outcomes. Everything from project management, to standardising processes, to memorandums of understanding and operational agreements, to cost savings. I can only encourage organisations not currently doing this to look at what they can perhaps achieve by clustering services with others.


Conclusion

So, in closing, I wish you well with your discussions at this forum, and I hope I have given you a number of relevant points to think about.

There is a lot of change going on today; very positive change – but, as I said in my opening comments, you cannot do it alone, the government cannot do it alone, and neither can the Department of Building and Housing or any other participant in this sector.

We all need to contribute, and I recognise the Building Officials Institute of New Zealand and its members as having a crucial role to play in this respect. You, as building officials, understand the building trends in your area, and how the local building sector operates.

You are a source of information and awareness to others in the industry, and in that sense you have a huge capacity to shape what happens. That is both a privileged and a progressive position to hold – do not underestimate your importance in guiding the new ways of doing things for the betterment of the sector as a whole.

After all, to return to the rugby analogy, you cannot play a world-class game of rugby without good referees.

Thank you and good luck with the remainder of your forum today.


ENDS

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