Wide ranging changes needed to tackle poor construction in building industry

OPINION:  New imaging technology has revealed hundreds of major buildings nationwide have defective or missing concrete or reinforcing steel.

Investigators say their scanning shows many buildings have not been constructed according to the plans.

They were “astounded” and “appalled” by what they found.

After the leaking building crisis, problems with Chinese steel and earthquake strengthening how can our construction industry still be performing so poorly that they are cutting corners and making substandard buildings? What can be done to once and for all ensure this industry puts up legally compliant buildings New Zealanders can feel safe in?

An MP from each side of the house gives their views.

A successful building and construction industry is vitally important to New Zealand. It accounts for about 7 per cent of our total economic activity, and employs about 250,000 people.

The issues occurring in the building and construction industry as highlighted in these cases are diverse and difficult, and must urgently be addressed.

One of the most major, and complex, aspects is the sector’s historic trends from periods of high activity to lows. Ensuring continuity of building activity is essential to maintain training standards, and the Government can play a role in this.

In the issues highlighted here, the concerns surround concrete with missing reinforcing, reinforcing not protected by embedding it in the concrete properly leaving it exposed and therefore at risk of rust, and air pockets occurring during pours.

I have also seen myself, at Auckland University’s engineering department during testing of concrete precast hollow core floors, how one sample was cut green, which meant the reinforcing steel sprung back into the panel, thereby weakening the panel.

These types of factors create huge risk.

Preventing these from happening is a supervision issue for the contractor, a technical competence and ethics issue on behalf of the concrete layer, and also an issue for local councils – although realistically it would be unreasonable for council consent staff to be in attendance at all pours.

This is also an issue of training in an industry that urgently needs more labour.

While the building and construction industry trains about 20,000 apprentices annually – about half by BCITO – there is a sector-wide shortfall of between 50,000 and 80,000 workers.

This is a key reason why National does not want to see change in training arrangements for this vital sector as part of the Government’s intention to consolidate training, and to have this overseen by bureaucrats in Wellington.

The issue of procurement tendering arrangements should also be addressed.

National supports moves to make contracts that are more fair for all parties concerned by working out who is best to take on components of risk. The Government and local councils should also have greater regard for ‘Whole-of-Life’ costing, which takes into account repairs and maintenance over buildings’ design lifetimes.

It is imperative that the Government’s latest review of building rules takes a thorough and robust approach to ensure our building standards not only consider modern technology, materials and design, but also ensure the highest standards are always adhered to, without fail.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan
Labour List MP based in Maungakiekie

Labour list MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan

Building and Construction Minister, Jenny Salesa is investigating the claims raised by investigators that scans from new imaging technology appear to show there are buildings which were not constructed according to their original plans.

Officials at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) have been instructed to undertake work to test the validity and scope of these claims.

I acknowledge that these concerns must be looked into – and they are. However, I would caution against a reactionary response based on one self-described opinion piece. I strongly encourage anyone with evidence of substandard building practices to contact their local council or MBIE to assist with the investigation currently underway.

The durability, resilience and safety of our built environment is important and Minister Salesa is leading the way on the significant body of work this government is undertaking when it comes to addressing building resilience and compliance deficiencies.

The government is proposing major changes to our building laws to improve the quality of building work undertaken in New Zealand. These are the most significant reforms since the current Building Act was introduced in 2004, under the last Labour government.

We’re promoting better practices in construction and making the construction sector more efficient through the Construction Sector Accord and reform of the Building Act, and by training the construction workforce of the future.

The Government Procurement Rules that came into effect this month aims to stop the race to the bottom in the industry. It will move the sector away from a focus on construction at as low a price as possible, which often saw construction companies cutting costs and undercutting each other to the point that some projects became financially unviable.

Instead, we are working with the sector to move toward a broader outcome model that will take into account not only the environmental health of the building but also the health and safety of a company’s workers.

Building consents are at a 45 year high, with more than 35,000 consents granted in the past year. The growth in building consent activity shows strong and sustained growth in the building sector, and that we are providing the sector with the support they need to sustain this growth.

We are addressing the long term challenges facing our construction industry with comprehensive structural and behavioural changes. This is all part of our plan for a healthy, sustainable construction sector that meets the growing demand and needs of New Zealanders.