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Time to change the thinking on how we source building materials

by Andrew Bayly

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The pressures of materials shortages are mounting up on builders. Headlines such as “Builders taking stress leave as ‘toxic mix of pressures’ plagues the industry” and “Owner of new build sleeping in tiny home on site after Gib shortage delays” are becoming far too common.

The shortage of plasterboard has got to the point where builders are having to resort to paying way over the normal asking price via online auctions. One West Auckland builder reported a TradeMe auction where bidding for 26 sheets of Gib had passed $5100 (Gib board usually sells for around $34 a sheet before trade discounts through hardware outlets).

The building and construction industry is a vital part of the New Zealand economy, employing over 280,000 people. With the current housing crisis, it is essential that we have a framework that allows for innovation to increase capacity. But we are currently inhibiting our ability to innovate quickly.

New Zealand has found itself in the situation where our building regulations restrict competition for building products, especially from overseas markets, because we require most products to go through an expensive, time-consuming testing regime. This is an absolute barrier to entry for new and innovative products, and one of the principal causes of the unnecessary delays that are occurring in the industry.

At a time when we are trying to build more houses, it is essential that we encourage new innovation. Much of the current research and development of new products and processes for building and construction is driven by offshore manufacturers. New Zealand needs to welcome and allow these new innovations to be used much more readily here.

Unfortunately we have a regulatory regime that is too inflexible and consenting authorities that are very conservative. The current Government maintains a system that stifles the innovation process.

Of course we have to be mindful of cutting corners. The building boom of the 1980s was characterised by the use of new construction materials and methodologies, which without proper information and training led to the leaky buildings crisis of the 1990s – a mess we are still mopping up. However, not all products that are used in building and construction create a risk.

Why are NZ standards held up as the benchmark? There are international standards that are world-leading, such as the International Building Code, British Standards and ISO, which have led to products that have a proven history of successful use overseas. Why shouldn’t those same products be allowed to be used here?

Rather than adopt international standards, New Zealand has created its own specific arrangements. For example, New Zealand is unusual and out of step with global practice in that 10 mm plasterboard is specified for residential builds and has also been approved as a structural element. More commonly overseas, the standard size for plasterboard is 9 mm and 11 mm for residential projects. And this isn’t a situation unique to plasterboard. Other building products such as steel, timber, cement, insulation and window joinery are in a similar situation.

We need to turn our thinking upside-down. It starts with an attitude: let’s be open to new innovation. This means new proven products and new methods of construction. For example, National believes we should be encouraging the use of modular construction techniques.

With regard to appropriately accredited, proven products from offshore, National believes we should allow these innovative products to be used here, but we would do it on a graduated system, with a three-tier approach to approval. This would involve an increasing level of scrutiny for products that affect structural integrity, weathertightness and energy performance. For instance, we would make it a requirement to supply technical datasheets and product in-service reports for low-risk products.

However, for components that are structural or affect seismic performance, or involve building safety such as cladding, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning), water/wastewater, and fire protection, we would put them through a gating process where they would be assessed for their use in New Zealand.

For many products where they have the necessary certification and history of use, no further requirement would be necessary. However, if there were concerns, then they may be required by exception to undergo a full appraisal or get product certification (such as CodeMark). The review process would be overseen by a committee of experienced building practitioners who would evaluate and decide all applications for importation. Supplier statements would be mandatory, and MBIE would have the ability to enforce compliance of these.

We are also keen to encourage the use of new technologies to reduce the time for consenting, undertaking building inspections and issuing codes of compliance – another issue that is currently causing massive and costly delays for builders, with territorial authorities taking up to 70 days to process and approve building consent applications. Greater use of technology can play its part in reducing unnecessary delays.

All this is essential if New Zealand is to continue to build new and better homes – and build them quickly. Authorised by Andrew Bayly, MP for Port Waikato, 7 Wesley Street, Pukekohe

One West Auckland builder reported a TradeMe auction where bidding for 26 sheets of Gib had passed $5100...

With the current housing crisis, it is essential that we have a framework that allows for innovation to increase capacity.

Andrew Bayly is the MP for Port Waikato, the Shadow Treasurer (Revenue) and the National Party spokesperson for Infrastructure and Statictics.

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