How regulatory reform is likely to impact the post-COVID building industry

As the construction industry prepares itself for life after coronavirus, reforms to building regulations in NSW are still being delayed and debated.

Proposed reforms to building regulations in NSW are essential for restoring confidence in the state’s real-estate market as it attempts to bounce back in a post-coronavirus world.

That is the view of the Master Builders Association of NSW, the peak body representing builders, tradespeople, contractors, suppliers and others working in the construction industry.

“It’s quite shameful that the Design and Building Practitioners Bill was not passed last October,” says MBA executive director Brian Seidler. “Given the current situation, it might be June until this bill is debated again in Parliament. We might spend a year a limbo.”
The far-reaching legislation, designed to improve transparency, accountability and the quality of work, followed the forced evacuation of two high-rise apartment blocks in Sydney because of major building flaws.

At the time, NSW Regulation Minister Kevin Anderson called the legislation a “game changer” which would identify and block high-risk builders – effectively putting them out of business. “People should feel confident they can enter the housing market in NSW knowing that their home has been designed and built in accordance with the Building Code of Australia,” he said at the time.

Under the proposed changes, the government would appoint a full-time commissioner to oversee the NSW building sector, introduce a star rating system for developers, implement digital record keeping and lift building skills training.
These new initiatives, detailed in the six reform pillars, are specifically designed to prevent major design and construction flaws that plagued the high-rise Opal and Mascot towers.

Despite the fanfare which accompanied its release, the Design and Building Practitioners Bill did not enjoy the support of the Labor Party and the Greens, which blocked the legislation. Critics say the bill is “full of empty promises” and that the NSW Building Commissioner, David Chandler, would not have the resources to implement the six reform pillars.

“If this is about making it better for homeowners and those who live in high-rise residential buildings, we are supportive of that,” says NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay. “But you have to remember the building commissioner, even though the government is saying he has more powers, has no staff.”
Brushing aside such criticism, Seidler says the six reform pillars guarantee a high level of transparency and oversight – vital to restoring public confidence in new apartment developments.

“For almost 15 years, Master Builders has been pushing for architects, engineers and building designers to come under some formal regime of registration and take ownership of their documentation,” he says. “That’s why we support this bill.”

Far from protecting bad developers, the new bill makes it clear that any financial risk should fall on their shoulders rather than the apartment owners or body corporates, should major building faults become evident.

“Developers might have to spend a bit more under this legislation,” he says. “We do have instances where the finished building is full of problems and it is then left to the prospective purchaser to deal with them. That is unacceptable.”

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