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Flexible, innovative thinking required in building consent review

Flexible, innovative thinking required in building consent review

Flexible, innovative thinking required in building consent review

Monday 28 November, 2022

New Zealand’s building and regulatory consent system is under pressure. 

Submissions closed last month on a wide-ranging review of the building consent process as the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) looks to make recommendations for improvement next year.

It’s no secret we have a housing shortage in New Zealand. We are in a situation where housing supply cannot meet demand and prices continue to remain out of reach for many.

In the Waikato alone, the Waikato Housing Initiative has identified that the region will be short of 75,000 houses over the next 25 years. This is staggering.

You only need to look at Hamilton’s Ulster Street to see how badly the system is broken. What was once the gateway to the city is now an emergency housing cluster no progressive society should ever force families to live among. Fenton Street in Rotorua, once bustling with tourists, is a similar travesty of even greater proportion.

Throughout New Zealand there is increasing demand to build at scale and pace.  But working against this demand is the reality property developers experience with delays in building consent processing and inspection wait times.  

As lawyers, we don’t get involved in the consenting process. But our expertise is certainly needed when things go wrong - think building defects, risks and liability and leaky homes. These ongoing issues are symptoms of a broken system.

Overall, from what I’ve observed, the sentiment from the building industry seems to be the entire subdivision development and consenting process is onerous and costly. The Government review seeks to make things speedier, less expensive and more transparent.

The review process has generated discussion about overarching consenting authorities, the apportionment of the onus of risk and how much should lie with local authorities.  The industry also wants to see more consistent decision making and removal of human error and judgement from the process.

From where I am sitting, however, there are much bigger conversations we must have.  These more critical issues have been signaled within the review, but haven’t been given the consideration they are due.  

It’s critical we take this opportunity during the Government review to discuss crucial issues such as offering flexible housing options, building integrated communities, future-proofing the construction sector and incorporating indigenous and alternative construction methods.

Flexible community-focused options

There is no doubt that housing is more than putting a roof over people’s heads.

The current Government review recognises the way we are building is changing - and it needs to. There are many competing housing needs within our communities ranging from owner occupiers to renters and others seeking alternative more flexible methods of housing, not just renting or owning.

I think about Pacific families where generations often share one home. The standard three-bedroom house with a converted garage does not speak to the wider community outcomes we might hope for with successful housing.

I am interested in how the review will provide the flexibility and incentives for different types of housing innovation: homes that can cater for inter-generational families, people who want to rent in perpetuity, or the type of shared housing more often seen overseas with communal living spaces.

Also, how do we ensure the communities we build are integrated without creating social housing in designated pockets of our communities or relegated to the side-lines?

Future-proofing the sector through innovation

I am also interested in how we address the sustainability of our construction sector. How will the review provide not only the flexibility for innovative thinking in materials and methods, but also the protection people need to ensure those innovations will stand the test of time?

Indigenous knowledge has been used for an age in building. Often the materials employed are more sustainable than the traditional GIB or steel framing designated in the building code. How can we incorporate this?

New more sustainable building materials are being developed all the time, but the process for their approvals into the system needs to be smoothed, while remaining robust.

Using alternative materials can often come at a cost. How we will we incentivise our construction industry to choose the materials and methods that create less waste and carbon emissions should the door be opened for them to be used?

As we start to unpick all these critical questions, it is clear the housing issues we face in New Zealand are larger than simply making the consent and regulation process speedier, less costly, and more transparent.

The system is fundamentally broken. Flexible innovative thinking is required to develop the solutions we need. Those solutions are likely to sit well outside the traditional three-bedroom New Zealand home or apartment complex.