The Department of Building and Housing has recently released a discussion document outlining proposed reforms to the Building Act 2004. Input from the building sector and the public are being sought. Submissions can be made before 5.00pm, 23 April 2010.
The proposed reforms are aimed at moving towards a more efficient building control system, and balancing risk, the amount of control and the capability and responsibility of the parties involved in the building process. The key proposals in the discussion document are:
Clarification of the Building Act and simplification of the Building Code
- Clarifying the purpose and principles of the Building Act 2004 and ensuring they are clearly set out to provide direction to those who apply and administer the Act. The objective is to ensure consistency in the administration of the Act nationally.
- Simplifying the Building Code so performance requirements are clear and easy to access.
A more balanced approach to building control
- Lower risk building works will not require building consents. Some examples are installation of a heat pump, basic shed or low deck. Other low risk building works including a one storey house would go through a quicker or simpler consenting process with fewer building consent authority inspections where there is certification by a licensed building practitioner. This proposal is likely to be welcomed by the building industry.
- A more streamlined consent process for complex major commercial building work, recognising the contract arrangements of the parties who have experienced and skilled professionals involved and would provide for risk management and quality control in their contracts. For example, arrangements for expert peer-review of complex commercial work. Again this is a positive proposal.
- High risk and more complex houses would continue to go through the current consent system. This recognises that such projects come with increased risk and consequences of failure.
- Considering whether the building consent system is the appropriate way to regulate public infrastructure works such as bridges and tunnels.
- Streamlining processes for the review of fire safety and building plans and inspection of the critical systems like fire sprinklers and fire alarms. " Improving the application process for building warrants of fitness and clarity about building warrants of fitness and compliance schedules.
- Investigating ways to administer the building control system in a more consistent and cost effective manner.
Shifting responsibility towards building professionals and trades people
- Building professionals and trades people would need to be more accountable for ensuring their work meets the Building Code. The expectation being that reliance on the role of the building consent authorities in respect of third party reviews will be reduced.
Increased consumer protection and building consumer Confidence
- Written contracts would be required that set out what builders are expected to do (including mandatory warranties that builders cannot contract out of), how any faults or defects would be fixed and how disputes will be resolved. These agreements will include details on financial backing of the builder (surety). The aim of having improved contracting practices is to ensure increased consumer confidence in the building industry.
Generally the proposals are positive for the industry and consumers. These are by and large evolutionary changes from what we started with 19 years ago.
The challenge for the Government will be in getting the balance right between the various parties. Shifting the responsibilities from building consent authorities to building professionals in respect of building works may still mean that the cost to a consumer is not reduced at least initially, but in the long term the cost efficiency will be apparent.
Building professionals who certify works will no doubt factor the additional responsibility into fees. However, the 'one process for all' approach that is in place needs to be made more flexible to recognise the complexities and risks of different building works.
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