Weekend Herald

Never mind the re­view — let’s just get build­ing

Prob­lems plagu­ing con­struc­tion in­dus­try are ob­vi­ous for all to see, writes Bruce Cot­ter­ill

- The Best Lead­ers Don’t Shout. www. bruce­cot­ter­ill. com Business · Arts · Google · New Zealand · Australia · Architecture

As the elec­tion looms, I note that those vy­ing for our votes have seen an op­por­tu­nity for a full- scale po­lit­i­cal at­tack on the process and costs of build­ing in this coun­try.

De­pend­ing on who you lis­ten to, we will be re­peal­ing the Re­source Man­age­ment Act or con­duct­ing a re­view ( yes, an­other one), this time into the costs of con­struc­tion.

Like many of us, I’m not sure that a re­view is nec­es­sary.

Any­one who works close to the build­ing and con­struc­tion in­dus­try, in­clud­ing those of us who have built a home or a com­mer­cial build­ing, will tell you that the is­sues are ob­vi­ous for all to see.

A quick Google search will high­light the fact that par­ti­cle board is more ex­pen­sive in New Zealand than Aus­tralia. You’ll get a sim­i­lar re­sult if you search for tim­ber fram­ing too. Floor­ing? Same re­sult. So, you might be sur­prised to hear me say that the cost of build­ing ma­te­ri­als is not the prob­lem.

You see, there’s 5 mil­lion of us and 25 mil­lion of them — Aus­tralians. It’s called economies of scale. Then there’s the fact that our build­ings are highly cus­tomised, whereas the Aussies have a lot more stan­dard­i­s­a­tion. So you’d ex­pect our stuff to cost a bit more.

The real is­sues sit else­where. Sim­ply put, most build­ing projects are be­hind time and over bud­get be­fore the earth­works have started. At that point, you haven’t spent a dol­lar on build­ing prod­ucts.

The big is­sue is there­fore the process that oc­curs be­fore build­ing starts. De­sign­ing and con­sent­ing. And of course, it’s tempt­ing to blame the coun­cils again.

But be­fore we do, we have to con­sider the re­cent past. Ac­cord­ing to var­i­ous re­ports, coun­cils have paid more than $ 1 bil­lion in com­pen­sa­tion to build­ing own­ers over the past decade. Faulty or de­fec­tive build­ings, built by de­vel­op­ers and builders who are long gone by the time a claim comes in, mean that our coun­cils are of­ten the “last man stand­ing” when look­ing for some­one to blame and some­one to pay.

The net re­sult is that coun­cil plan­ning de­part­ments have be­come “gun shy” — and rightly so. In other words, they have be­come so cau­tious in terms of plan­ning ap­provals that it takes time, money and some­times even third party peer re­views from engi­neers be­fore the coun­cil is pre­pared to take the risk, the green light comes down and con­struc­tion can com­mence.

Those with a bit of ex­pe­ri­ence will tell you that, be­cause the coun­cils are now so cau­tious, some ar­chi­tects are sub­mit­ting half- com­plete plans in the ex­pec­ta­tion that the coun­cil ques­tion­ing will guide them in terms of what min­i­mums they need to meet to get the de­sign across the line. And that, of course, means more work for the al­ready pres­sured coun­cil plan­ning de­part­ments.

In any busi­ness, in­ef­fi­ciency is one of the big­gest driv­ers of cost. When the de­lays and cost blowouts hap­pen this early, the en­tire pro­ject be­comes one of build­ing prod­ucts ar­riv­ing at the wrong time, work­ers sit­ting idle and pro­ject man­agers tear­ing their hair out.

So how do you fix it?

Like any build­ing pro­ject, the first thing to do is to get the foun­da­tions right.

To me that means that the de­sign, com­pli­ance and build­ing sec­tors need to work in har­mony to stream­line the process.

Step one is to en­cour­age the ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign in­dus­try to de­liver plans that com­ply.

There are two parts to achiev­ing this.

First, the de­sign­ers need to be in­cen­tivised to do so, by know­ing that they will not get the run- around later in the process if they are tidy up front. Sec­ond, com­pli­ance needs to be made eas­ier, so ev­ery­one knows what the game is.

The next step is for coun­cils to be en­abled to stream­line their own pro­cesses. A start would be to push back in­com­plete plans and leave that onus to­tally on the de­sign­ers, ar­chi­tects and engi­neers. If you need en­gi­neer­ing in­put, why should the coun­cil have to re­quest it? That should come as part of the de­sign process.

There­after, the coun­cils need to com­mit to their own 20- day turn­arounds. If it com­plies, ap­prove it and let peo­ple get un­der way. If it doesn’t, present a sim­ple out­line of what’s re­quired to get it done, and again, push the onus back to the de­sign sec­tor.

Of course, coun­cils can del­e­gate that re­spon­si­bil­ity if they know they’re not go­ing to be car­ry­ing the can if things go wrong down the line. The re­spon­si­bil­ity for fail­ure can­not sit with the lo­cal author­ity any longer.

So the next step is to en­sure that the build­ing in­dus­try is set up to suc­ceed rather than fail. That means we need to en­sure that sin­gle- as­set de­vel­op­ment com­pa­nies set up to build a home or a ware­house can’t then dis­ap­pear on com­ple­tion.

There are a num­ber of ways to do this. What if a builder was un­able to com­mence a pro­ject un­til they had proof of 10- year in­sur­ance for de­fec­tive work? Or a fi­delity fund where a small per­cent­age — say 1 per cent — of ev­ery job is paid into an in­dus­try- wide in­sur­ance scheme. Master Builders of­fers a well- re­garded 10- year war­ranty. The trou­ble is, at least half of our builders aren’t mem­bers.

Once freed of the bur­den of be­ing the in­dus­try’s po­lice­man, coun­cils could then turn their at­ten­tion to sup­port­ing in­no­va­tion in build­ing and de­sign. Again, our com­plex and slow sys­tem sti­fles that.

Why would the owner of a new build­ing seek to be cre­ative when they know it’s go­ing to take longer and cost more to get such in­no­va­tive ap­proaches signed off ?

The same goes for in­no­va­tive prod­ucts. The monopoly held by Mbie on ap­prov­ing new build­ing prod­ucts has to change. The Mbie depart­ment re­spon­si­ble for is­su­ing CodeMark ap­provals is Branz, whose own web­site de­scribes an or­gan­i­sa­tion that is fo­cused on “lift­ing the per­for­mance of the build­ing sys­tem in New Zealand so it can de­liver bet­ter out­comes for all”.

Un­for­tu­nately, in re­al­ity they are yet an­other gov­ern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion that gets in the way of progress. Build­ing in­dus­try in­sid­ers say that they fail to recog­nise overseas cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of even the most ma­ture and sta­ble build­ing prod­ucts, and in­no­va­tive im­porters of those prod­ucts are thus forced into a process that can take more than 12 months and cost tens of thou­sands of dol­lars.

There are plenty of mod­ern build­ing prod­ucts and tech­niques that would save time and money, if only we had the con­fi­dence that our city plan­ners would sup­port them.

So, the ur­gent mes­sage to the next Gov­ern­ment is this: let’s for­get the re­view and get on with it. Start chang­ing things. Sim­plify things. We’ll get some things wrong but we’ll get some right too. Af­ter all, it would be hard to make the process any more dif­fi­cult.

• Bruce Cot­ter­ill is a com­pany direc­tor and an ad­viser to busi­ness lead­ers. He is the author of the book

Why would the owner of a new build­ing seek to be cre­ative when they know it’s go­ing to take longer and cost more to get such in­no­va­tive ap­proaches signed off?

 ?? Photo / Dean Pur­cell ?? How about com­pul­sory in­sur­ance or a fi­delity fund to cover the cost of fu­ture re­pairs?
Photo / Dean Pur­cell How about com­pul­sory in­sur­ance or a fi­delity fund to cover the cost of fu­ture re­pairs?

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