New Zealand Building Policy - A new Policy for an old challenge.

More Building Product Choices Increase Market Competition and Lower Prices, Right? A New Zealand Building Policy Story

Audio Interview from Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon segment with Katherine Ryan. Recorded on 18 April 2024.

Audio from Radio New Zealand’s Nine To Noon Show with Katherine Ryan

A ‘New’ New Zealand Building Policy Faces Challenges To Succeed

Every day, I hear industry suppliers and their vested associates expressing their concerns about New Zealand’s Building and Construction Minister, Chris Penk’s new building products acceptance policy. This New Zealand Building Policy proposes greater acceptance of internationally sourced and certified building products within our building industry, sparking a range of opinions. Most are welcoming, while some are less so.

From the conversations I’ve been privy to, it seems a select few of New Zealand’s building product suppliers are apprehensive about the increased competition. Their concern centers on the potential impact on their bottom line, but that’s just business. Competition can be deemed both good and bad. It all depends on which side of the fence you sit on and your attitude to competition.

After all, New Zealand has been widely criticized for constructing some of the world’s most expensive, yet low-quality and unhealthy houses. This situation could be attributed to a variety of factors, including and certainly not limited to:

  1. The lengthy building consents process and substantial financial contributions to the council for new developments.
  2. The high cost of land in New Zealand.
  3. The monopolistic supply chain.
  4. The prevalent use of inefficient and outdated building practices.
  5. Council’s inherent liability when approving building consents.
  6. The lack of standardization.
  7. Lack of building product manufacturing capability and investment

Unfortunately, the global building and construction industry is officially recognized as one of the least skilled sectors, perhaps attributed to the high level of manual labour required for most building tasks. There’s nothing really difficult about building, it can be done in nearly all weathers and locations by largely untrained workers. Even most capable DIY’ers can repair many of the problems that arise in their own homes.

My experience shows that most issues arise not from product failure, but rather from subpar workmanship, cost-cutting measures, and poor design – the three elements that caused the highly publicized leaky home crisis in New Zealand not so long ago. Of course, products can fail, as they do in all industries, mostly due to a bad production run, mishandling, and incorrect use.

Consider this: numerous products certified by BRANZ and CodeMark in New Zealand have failed. So, does the argument that importing already certified products into New Zealand under the new building policy will cause another leaky homes crisis still hold water? Personally, under the New Zealand Building Policy, I don’t believe so.

Was There Justification For Recertification?

Interestingly, a significant portion of our products are already imported and often retested and recertified at a considerable expense. This process, while benefiting larger financially buoyant suppliers, has deterred many smaller companies from introducing superior products due to the prohibitive recertification costs and time at BRANZ and CodeMark.

It’s not that these products can’t be used in our builds, it’s getting them through the building consent process that is the challenge. Why? Because our councils are ultimately taking responsibility for the quality of our builds by approving the building consent. So, if the build fails, for whatever reason, and the builder has disappeared, the owner can always turn to the council for remediation. And New Zealand’s Councils have been spending millions of taxpayers funds tackling this very issue. So, this is the real challenge under the new New Zealand Building Policy, changing the way our Councils perceive and qualify our products. We need to find a solution to this challenge because I feel the new New Zealand Building Policy, as proactive as it is, won’t change anything if we don’t.

So, what have we learned? The handbrake is still being pulled by our councils. Whereas if BRANZ or CodeMark certify a product in New Zealand, the council can lean on their local certification. But in my experience, this recertification still doesn’t really absolve the councils of liability if there is a building issue down the line, recertified products or not.

This situation is messy, and it’s no wonder there is more litigation today in the building and construction industry than ever.

The key question we need to ponder under the new New Zealand Building Policy is: Why has the minister had to introduce such a policy? Clearly, there’s an industry-wide issue that needs resolving. It sounds like a good policy to me, but I don’t really think anything will change unless we solve the council liability issue first.

As I’ve harped on many times, our building and construction industry globally need better education, but we also need to educate our councils on the merits of using better building systems, sustainable products, and more efficient building practices. If they are our gartekeepers then they really do need to be the best educated and informed.

The Argument To Use Better Products

Given New Zealand’s small population and limited manufacturing base, we should seriously consider using superior, more affordable products and building systems that are manufactured overseas. These products are often better made, suitable for more extreme climates, and most importantly, they’re more cost-effective.

Arguments against these products citing New Zealand’s unique climate seem unfounded. Again, the infamous leaky home crisis was largely a result of poor design, inefficient building practices, and substandard workmanship.

Building Insurance – A Potential Solution

I propose we insure our building projects to protect end-users. If a builder or supplier goes bankrupt or disappears, like many do, the building’s owners remain protected, potentially reducing the liability on councils and taxpayers as well.

We could also refocus our efforts on training our industry, adopting more efficient building practices, utilizing better building systems, and sourcing more sustainable products. Yes, change is difficult, but those who adapt and evolve often reap the rewards.

The building and construction industry will always face challenges, but we must encourage change, positivity, and reasoned questioning under the new New Zealand Building Policy. Unfounded fear-mongering should not be given undue attention.

Adopt, Partner, Manufacture: The Way Forward…

Through our Advanced Building Association activities, I have been pushing for greater adoption and use of better building systems, sustainable products, and improved building practices under the New Zealand Building Policy. I feel that there are so many opportunities to adopt superior products and building systems from worthy international partners and even perhaps manufacture them under licence in the future when demand grows. This can be a win-win for all, but it does need a strong government with appropriate investment and focus.

Let’s all contribute to making housing more affordable, sustainable, and healthier for occupants. Let’s make building easier and adopt a more positive and proactive approach.

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