Friday, 21 December 2007

Back in my day ...

Allow me to rant for just a moment. 

2007 has been a frustrating year in many ways.  Certainly a frustrating year for freedom lovers, and in almost every way a frustrating year for most people in the building industry.  New regulations, new impositions, longer lead periods and higher costs for every part of the building programme, 'voluntary' registration of the builders and designers who remain in the industry ...

The greater intrusion can be seen in a simple comparison of building consent documentation through the years, and the time and paper taken to produce it.

Building consent applications take three times longer to prepare than they did just ten years ago and four times as much paper to produce as they did twenty years ago, and (it often seems) it takes about five times longer and quite a few dollars more to process -- not to mention the time taken for resource consent applications, and in extra inspections once you start.

One hundred years ago most houses were built on the basis of one A3 sheet of plans  (sometimes) an A4 handwritten specification clipped to the sheet. These are the sturdy houses of yesteryear that ring our major cities in which the chattering classes of today now love to live.  Today, those same plans would get you thrown out of the council offices, (the size and growing population of which tell their own story about the growth of intrusive regulation), and to renovate the houses it now takes longer to produce the plans than it does to do the work.

The nonsense only started in recent decades.  Twenty years ago your typical house could be built with about five pages of plans and maybe twenty A4 pages of specifications.  Those buildings still hold up well today.

Ten years ago things were starting to get more complicated, with the paper  required to lodge a building consent for a simple house doubling from what it was ten years before -- and, naturally, fewer of those pages were now being read -- but little did we know the explosion in time-consuming bullshit that was about to come.

In the last five years, and in this last year particularly, producing and guiding an application between the Scylla and Charybdis of the building and resource consent process seems the work of Sisyphus, not of Ulysses.  It used to be fun.  It's not any more.

A client was telling me yesterday that he was going through the paperwork of a deal made about ten years ago: he bought a section conditionally on the basis of getting a resource consent for subdividing the place into three units. Seven weeks later he was breaking ground, with building and resource consents in tow.  These days, he'd have to buy unconditionally, and have to suffer the holding costs and uncertainties of a much, much, much longer wait.

More time, more unnecessary costs, bullshit and bureaucracy (and bureaucrats) increasing by the month.  And are our houses really better for it?

** Posts from the ARCHIVES on: Building


  1. I totally agree!

    It seems our freedom hating government seizes each and every opportunity it gets to create yet another bureaucracy and another office building full of Labour voters.

    The irony of the whole building legislation review is that under the new 'voluntary' licensing regime those architects that were responsible for the majority of the leaky homes and apartments will automatically become licensed since they are members of the architects registering body.

  2. The worst one I have heard is that in Lower Hutt you can't reputty your own windows. You have to get a qualified reputtier...

    A builder told me recently that a standar new house is now requiring about >$20thousand of steel reinforcing for earthquake protection. IF you want to add a second storey you effectively have to back fit a steel internal frame.

    Now, earthquakes are obviously a risk, but the history of NZ shows that we don't lose too many houses to earthquakes. Most of the damage in Gisborne seems to have been to commercial buildings. I suspect we lose far more to floods and slips.

    So are we overengineering our homes and making them far more expensive than they need to be for the relative risk?

    Don't forget also you will soon require a building warrant of fitness called the Home Energy Rating Scheme. While it will be 'voluntary' to start there is definite intent to make it compulsory. I suspect it will be a failure (why pay even more for yet another check) and when all the enthusiasm doesn;t result in action, they will make it happen.


  3. Like you PC, I have found the increased documentation required for consent of late immensely frustrating, especially given the new strictures eventuating from revising E2 (the section of the Building Code dealing with external moisture for the laypeople).

    I hate applying for any consent as much as the next architect (I harbour an especially deep hatred for resource consents) but looking at the holistic picture painted of the approvals process over the years, I have a few comments.

    First off, I'm only six years out of architecture school so my experience of this evolution is necessarily limited. Still, I had some friends who were working at Peter Jackson's in-house architecture firm straight out of school, who would tell jealousy-inducing tales of how all that was required for THEIR resource consents from an overly obeisant Wellington City Council was rudimentary plans with hand-written annotation.

    Indeed, in my first job I saw some builder's building consent applications (which were successful) drawn roughly with a scale rule, with hand-written pencil annotation.

    My first few applications for building consent (which were far more naive and sparse than anything I would produce today) would be accepted into Council without a question by a friendly, knowledgeable building officer.

    Now I go down with meticulously triple-checked sets, only to be pulled up on a minor technicality (only one set of photocopied manufacturer's information, which could be either photocopied onsite or sourced from the net) and sent on my way again.

    However, it is important to understand that this increasingly stringent regime has resulted from the public demand to 'do something' about the leaky building moral panic.

    One thing not touched on in your brief discussion of building approvals over the years, is that your hundred-year old single sheet plan would be built by a well-trained craftsman builder. The 'leaky building' fiasco has ostensibly arisen from the less-than-scrupulous processes of quick-buck developers and margin-shaving builders sailing as close to the wind as possible. The approvals process is a necessary part of giving the end user adequate satisfaction that their huge investment will be viable. When it comes to buildings 'caveat emptor' simply won't cut it, and putting the onus on the buyer to independently verify that the methods and materials used by the designer and builder will be up to scratch is simply unfair.

    Whilst I get immensely frustrated at the current bloated and unwieldy approvals process, I can't scheme up a better solution (outside of having lots of real experts to run the approvals, and making the statutory processing times MANDATORY). I am absolutely convinced that a central body should approve building plans before construction.


  4. Not an architect?:

    I find it interesting that you lay the blame for 'leaky buildings' at the feet of architects (ie NZIA-registered building professionals).

    Just to clarify for you, no architect is 'automatically licensed' by the NZRAB (formerly the AERB). Firstly, one must sit a fuck-off giant exam with a very high fail-rate, and then maintain an annual points-based accreditation (continued professional development) administered by the NZIA in order to be able to register. has more info if you are still interested.


  5. As the client mentioned, my records show the Resource consent issued 4 weeks from the agreement signing, and this included the time it took to produce plans. The first building consent was one week later. I probably complained at the time. Several years earlier town planning issues could have been sorted with an appointment with a town planner.


  6. denmt,
    Certainly getting builders to take responsibility for workmanship is an ongoing battle. It is made more difficult by over regulation, were getting work past by often poorly qualified building inspectors becomes the standard.

    There is also reliance upon product testing and approval, seen as the domain of govt agencies, {remember the B.I.A]. Failure will be a regular occurrence, compliance costs will far outstrip the cost of insurance, in a market in risk.
    This means 'caveat emptor' must be the basis of a market system. Mistakes will still occur, but the risks will be attributable. I suspect those in the business of underwriting such risks, will be much more diligent than any govt agency.
    Producer Statements are an attempt to apportion risk, {why emulate a market, when you could have a real one?} Most are not worth the paper they are written on.
    A market system has to be driven by the end user, placing value on guarantees offered.


  7. Actually the Privy Council warning us that this was our future fate in their 1995 decision of someone vs Invercargill city. A couple had bought a 17 year old house and some time later it developed a crack in the foundation. They sued the council for negligence.
    The Privy Council had to find in their favour given our Country's rejection of common law in favour of nanny state law.
    Most counties let the council off the hook after the first sale or after say five years. This encourages the development of a private sector insurance, surveying and guarantee market. IN other words let the buyer beware. This is why the boat market does not have a leaky boat syndrome.
    We could still turn it around and should require any future government to do so.

  8. Having recently had the experience of being involved with various property developments (in Kiwiland and overseas) I've found that the quick-buck mentality of those involved is directly proportional to the amount of taxation, regulation, vexation and all those thefts and imposts, big and small, visited upon the developer, the builders, the contractors etc. by councils and governments. The more the useless non-productive take, the more difficult it is for all others to make their living. Hence the more desparate they become- an example of socialism setting man against man.

    Is it fair and right the council and the government take more than the developer? They take no risk at all and provide no value at all. They create nothing. He provides all the value and takes all the risk...


  9. Under PECPR regulations (Pressure Equipment, Cranes and Passenger Ropeways), for the design of piping & vessels, getting your calculations checked is not enough: An independent assessor must completely recalculate all the pipe stresses for you, ie literally doubling the work. I believe this came about after successful lobbying from people setting-up a design verification firm - it didn't even require a "leaky homes" issue (and affected very little of the general populace).

    Just wait for some bright-spark to apply the same to building designs.

  10. RE: Peer reviews and costs thereof and the whole fiasco here is a letter I have just sent to a council.
    I have removed the names to protect the privacy of the applicants. I have no concern for the consultants and peer reviewers.

    The Chief Executive Officer
    XXXXX District Council

    Engineering Works Inspection – XXX
    Dear Sir,
    We have received a letter from [council], dated 19th December, passing on your Engineers’ report on the Landscaping Plans and Report we provided to the XXs on the 31st August, 2007.
    Your consultants have in turn instructed XX Planning Ltd to peer review this landscaping report. The XX Planning report by Ms YY raises some technical matters and hence reports that further information is required and hence recommends that the Landscaping Plans and Report does not satisfy consent condition 2(c) of RM0xyz.
    The contents of the Landscaping report were modeled on earlier reports presented to Council which have been acceptable, so I can only presume that either Council or XX Planning Ltd have upgraded the requirements without advising applicants and their advisers. I would have thought that Council itself could have identified these technical deficiencies and saved my client the cost of commissioning yet another consultant to advise on this minor subdivision.
    To avoid such delays and costs in future we recommend Council prepare a model template to ensure that all these points are covered.
    We endeavour to keep our clients’ costs to a minimum. So rather than put our client through another round of reporting and peer review, we propose that Council simply commission XX Planning Ltd to make the necessary amendments to the report which will presumably satisfy their requirements and hence, presumably, those of Council itself.

    If XX Planning Ltd are always to be the final arbiters then maybe we should all be told this so we can employ them from the outset and save time and money – albeit at the expense of variety and choice. On the other hand this may conflict with the Institute’s Codes of Conduct and Ethics.
    Jenny McShane is a garden designer and gardener and prefers to spend her time in designing and gardening rather than writing reports, and prefers her clients to spend their money on plants and planting rather than paying for reports. So she is happy to transfer this work to those whose priorities are more aligned with Council’s.
    If XY Planning Ltd cannot understand the difference between planting required to satisfy conditions of an RMA consent and planting designed to enhance the owners’ enjoyment of their own property then there is little we can do to “clarify” that. (see last paragraph of page 1)
    It is worth noting that this whole requirement for “softening planting” is not required by the Act or by the XY District Plan. A search reveals no reference to “softening the effect of subdivision” in Chapter 11, which is not surprising given that subdivision itself has no effect “harsh” or otherwise.
    The site is just over 4.0ha in area and hence two dwellings can be built on the property as of right. Hence the second dwelling which is enabled by the subdivision into two lots meets the permitted baseline test and hence is deemed to have no adverse effects which require avoiding, remedying or mitigating.
    Consequently, there are no legal grounds for requiring the screening of the dwelling because it could be built in this location without any resource consent at all.
    The legal reality is that the total landscape proposal is designed solely to enhance the value and amenties of the two properties for the present and future owners.
    We considered challenging the legality of condition 2(c) but given that it would be good practise to carry out the planting as proposed we decided to go along with the condition assuming that Council would be generally supportive of this “extra mile”.

    The legal position regarding the permitted baseline was fully spelled out in the report accompanying the application as follows:
    2.5 Option 1: Build the second dwelling and then Subdivide
    This option is governed by the following rules:
    • The existing lot, being 4.0 ha, is large enough to allow two dwellings to be built on the site as a permitted activity. (See rule
    • The Plan also allows for a residential dwelling to be built on a site of less than 4ha, provided the site contains at least 1000 sq metres net site area. (See rule
    • …
    Mr XX could initiate this option by building the second dwelling on the existing lot, as a permitted activity. Then, he could apply to subdivide around the dwelling, as land surplus to farming requirements, as a controlled activity.

    We presumed that both Council and its Consultants would be aware of this situation and be responsive to the XXs’ good intentions and efforts. Instead, and I might say, once again, Council and its Consultants have destroyed this goodwill, and turned this minor exercise into a costly and time-consuming round of reports and peer reviews.
    If this level and detail of reporting had been required at the time we gained our own consent for the Managed Park at ZZ we wonder if that project would ever have got underway. After all, during the implementation of that small residential development (five dwellings) we planted over 80,000 trees and plants.
    We are now enjoying our development of our current major garden and thankfully do not need the blessings, consents, guidance, or interventions of Council and its numerous consultants.

    Yours sincerely,

    Owen McShane
    McShane Venture Management Ltd


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