Cosgrove announces ‘most profound changes in NZ industry’s history’

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Minister for Building issues Clayton Cosgrove opened the recent RMBF conference in Queenstown by announcing that the Government had offi cially approved the introduction of a licensing regime for building practitioners. 

In what he called perhaps the most profound changes to New Zealand’s construction industry in its history, Mr Cosgrove elaborated on the programme ahead, which will be fully in place by 2011, with voluntary uptake beginning late next year. He anticipated that 28,000 builders, designers and tradespeople will seek licenses. “It is time to remove the cowboys from the construction industry. 

Licensing will set benchmark standards of competence, and give the public renewed confi dence in the many professional builders who are out there. This is something your industry has needed, wanted and, in fact, demanded,” Mr Cosgrove said. “It means that many (but not all) of those who design and build will need to show they meet a national standard in the work they do.” Mr Cosgrove said from November 2007, 13 license classes will be progressively introduced for people working in certain areas of design and building work. There will be three licenses for designers, depending on the complexity of buildings being worked upon. 

Buildings will be classified into three categories. For example, designers of a Category 1 basic brick or weatherboard house will require a Class 1 design license. Those designing a more complex Category 2 building with monolithic cladding, for example, will require a Class 2 license, and those who design highly complex Category 3 buildings, such as high rises and hospitals, will require a Class 3 design license.

Registered architects and engineers will automatically hold a Class 3 design license and can, therefore, design all three building categories. Mr Cosgrove said the Government had recognised the importance of having one person responsible for the whole building site. “People who oversee the construction of a building will also need to be licensed. As with the designers, there will be three classes of site license, relating to the category of the building being worked on.” 

There will be seven licenses for specialist construction trades. These cover concrete structures, steel structures, carpentry, external plastering, roofing, brick and blocklaying, and building services, such as fi re protection or air conditioning systems. 

These license holders will certify their work, and one person with the appropriate site licence will have overarching responsibility for certifying the whole site. The license standards and assessment criteria will be approved by the Building Practitioners Board, which is made up of building industry specialists from across the sector. “You’ve already seen some of the changes brought in by the new legislation, but I can tell you now that that has been the warm-up. 

This year is where the rubber will really hit the road, and a whole raft of measures will come in to raise performance across the board,” Mr Cosgrove said. He also mentioned building sustainability and energy efficiency, saying that a recent report released by the Ministry for the Environment shows so-called “green buildings” are worth 40% more than conventional buildings, are much cheaper to maintain and are more efficient. 

“Yet how many people, when specifying what they want in their new home or refurbishing their existing home, take account of energy usage, water usage and waste disposal? And how many of you in this industry bring it to their attention? We all know the answer — very few do, and I intend to change that. “So we are working on a fundamental rethink of how buildings perform. 

We are looking at every aspect of what we should expect from modern buildings, backed up by detailed work on practical, user-friendly standards.” Mr Cosgrove said the Government will determine, in partnership with industry over the coming year, how licenses will be assessed. “But I can assure you that good builders will not be sent back to school, because experience and a good track record will count. 

“The Department of Building and Housing will be responsible for issuing licenses. And to ensure the system is transparent and fair, the independent Building Practitioners Board will hear appeals against licensing decisions and complaints against building practitioners.” 

Annual license costs are likely to be up to $200, and the initial assessment cost is likely to be between $250 and $650, depending on the ease with which an applicant can demonstrate their competence, skills and experience. Mr Cosgrove said people who don’t have a license will still be able to undertake a wide range of building work. 

“But the difference is that significant work must be supervised, or done, by licensed people. The license holders will have to sign off that the building work has been done in compliance with the building consent.” The Minister said the Government had also been very careful about intervening in DIY work, something that is so much a part of the basic Kiwi way of life. “It is important we look at the whole picture and see that there is a lot of low-risk DIY activity that isn’t a problem,” he said. 

New Zealanders will still be able to do work that doesn’t need a building consent, including painting and decorating, maintenance and repair, and building low fences, garden sheds and low decks, and installing new kitchen or bathroom joinery or other internal joinery.