Building and Construction Minister Shane Jones says a series of bold ideas presented to him by the three Northland mayors at a forum in Whangarei last week (Thursday 14) has given him positive food for thought.
“It was a very good meeting, there were a lot of positives to come out, and we made a lot of headway towards creating flexibility and tackling regulatory costs,” Mr Jones said.
“The mayors and their staff certainly came up with some interesting if not radical suggestions and I will be reporting their views to the Prime Minister next month.”
Mayors Stan Semenoff (Whangarei), Wayne Brown (Far North) and Neil Tiller (Kaipara) told the Minister affordable housing was as much a concern for Territorial Authorities as it was for Central Government.
The mayors suggested:
• Scrapping funding for Building Research Association New Zealand (BRANZ) in favour of creating an insurance fund to compensate homeowners for building and construction failures
• Allow a single nationwide permit for large scale group house builders
• Allow flexibility in building permits to accommodate for minor changes to building plans.
• Focus on building houses, not on excessive paper documentation which increases bureaucracy and time costs.
• Greater flexibility in the DIY construction area.
Mr Jones said statements from mayors Brown and Semenoff last month that “gold-plated” building standards and consent procedures were part of the problem had attracted the Prime Minister’s attention as well as his own.
He was told that the leaky homes problem had resulted in total risk aversion in the building planning and consent process subsequently.
“The mayors said the North could come up with a New Zealand-wide solution, as it included a city, smaller towns and rural areas,” Mr Jones said.
Mayor Semenoff said the leaky homes issue was an unfortunate chapter in the building industry, resulting in the baby being thrown out with the bathwater as a result, and now it was time to bring logic and commonsense back into building standards.
“It’s no good looking to Auckland to solve the problem, the problem came from Auckland,” Mayor Brown told the Minister.
Mr Jones said he was delighted with the meeting’s proposals, as there needed to be more innovative responses to questions of the “liability problem” in the building industry.
“I give a commitment now that we will look into the insurance scheme proposed.
“We issue nationally about 56,000 residential building permits a year, 14 percent of them regarded as alterations, so why not explore using some of those fees to establish an insurance scheme?
“There are some hefty ideas here – and the proposal that large, group housing companies could virtually get an automatic building consent is a ‘biggy’.”
Mr Jones said the Prime Minister was looking for flexibility and simplicity in house building, and a large part of the report he would make to her in about four weeks’ time would be influenced by what the three mayors had told him.
“After the remarks made by Mr Brown and Mr Semenoff last month and what has come out of the discussion today, I am in no doubt that Northland was the right place to start my investigations of what my department can do toward making housing more affordable,” he said.
Mr Jones will be talking to other local authorities and industry groups over the next few weeks as he prepares his report.