Australian builders blazing a trail

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The two main industry organisations — Master Builders Australia and the Housing Industry Association — recently agreed to make all new homes compliant with “Universal Design” principles by 2020.

These principles — which will see Australian homes designed to meet the changing needs of residents — have been developed following extensive consultation between the industry and disability groups working through the National Dialogue on Universal Design.
In my view, the whole process is a superb and inspirational collaborative model for New Zealand.

Bringing together the residential building industry, the disability sector and central government to specifically develop standards for homes that meet the changing needs of Australians shows that New Zealand still has a long way to go.
They have succeeded in developing these voluntary standards and a strategy to ensure they meet their goals. It is a testament to the goodwill and co-operation that exists between the Australian government, the private sector and community representatives.

The journey has been fast and productive. In 2010, the Australian Government’s Liveable Housing Design guidelines were developed to improve awareness within the residential design and construction industry, and in Government, about the benefits of incorporating universal design principles into new housing.

The voluntary guidelines combine aspirational targets for liveable design with practical know-how to encourage the construction of more adaptable homes.
A non-profit housing organisation, Liveable Housing Australia, has also been established, to promote greater understanding of the value of universal housing design within the community, and to promote Universal Design practices throughout the residential building and property industry.

What’s interesting is that Universal Design features are very much the same as Lifetime Design standards in New Zealand.
The Lifemark quality assurance system includes features such as reinforced bathroom walls, smart positioning of power points and wider corridors — all designed to better cater for the changing needs of families with young children, people with temporary injuries, and those with disabilities, particularly seniors.

The Lifemark demonstrates we already have world-class design standards, endorsed by the New Zealand Government.
All we need to do now is start using them and work more collaboratively to achieve mutually beneficial goals.

As I see it, New Zealand should be both a little ashamed and very much inspired by what’s happening in Australia. We have an urgent need for housing stock that will meet the needs of our changing demographics and reducing the long-term excessive costs of retrofitting to meet needs.

There are market opportunities for the construction industry waiting to be grasped as consumer demand for more accessible and adaptable housing grows.
Adopting Lifetime Design standards and working towards achieving the Lifemark also reaches beyond just ensuring better homes are built, by adding real market value.