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Standards and the Building Act review – seeking your input

Timber building frameAn open letter to our stakeholders in the building and construction sector

The Department of Building and Housing (DBH) is reviewing the Building Act 2004. The aim is to prepare recommendations to the government on legislative change. Standards New Zealand is keenly interested in the review and we have asked to fully participate in the department's review.

We'd like to ensure that the building and construction sector has the Standards it needs to operate productively and to support a quality regulatory framework – one that is simple, easy to understand, stable, and consistently enforced. We believe this review is a clear opportunity to identify and address any sector confusion or misunderstanding of how the building control framework should operate.

The review is pivotal to improving the way the sector operates and to reduce compliance cost. There are important choices to be made and we want your input on the review and its impact on the Standards used by the building and construction sector, and on your national Standards body.

Reviewing the role of Standards

The review will cover the design of the Building Act 2004, and the role and design of supporting regulation, such as the New Zealand Building Code (NZBC), and Standards. The review will also consider how the alignment of the NZBC and Standards could be improved.

The building and construction sector has consistently expressed a preference for a regulatory framework comprising:

  • an overarching Building Code operating at a higher outcomes level
  • a coherent, comprehensive, and up-to-date suite/portfolio of Standards supporting the higher-level Building Code, providing the next level of detail
  • an appropriate mix of international Standards, joint Australian/New Zealand Standards, New Zealand-specific Standards, and industry guidelines/best practice documents, as best suits industry.

We support this position and we strongly believe that the Standards covering building and construction provide considerable value to the sector and should continue to be developed and maintained.

We'd like to see more emphasis on creating tools and information to better meet the needs of users – for example, licensed building practitioners, designers, architects, and engineers. Any such guidance information should be developed in close consultation with sector stakeholders to ensure it is fit for purpose. We would also like to see a transparent and consistent funding model for the development of Standards and access to Standards.

Standards provide practical guidance for the building and construction sector

There are over 600 current building-related New Zealand and Australian Standards representing all relevant sections of the building sector. Over 200 of these Standards are referenced in the Compliance Documents of the NZBC. For each one, we work as a 'connector' between the building industry, regulators, and end-users, to ensure each Standard is relevant, credible, and widely accepted in the sector.

Standards provide practical guidance about building practices for builders, designers, architects, plumbers, building officials, and the building industry. They are recognised and valued for their independence and integrity, and have a high level of industry acceptance.

Standards referenced in Compliance Documents provide crucial, cost-effective, and practical guidance for building consent applicants as a means of compliance with the NZBC. Standards, which are Acceptable Solutions or Verification Methods, are key enablers of New Zealand's economic success and a wide range of public good outcomes.

We are very conscious of the Government's commitment to ensuring value-for-money across the public sector.

Myth busting

We'd like to take this opportunity to dispel a number of 'myths' and misperceptions about Standards.

Myth

Reality

Standards add complexity to regulatory frameworks (like the Building Act 2004 and Building Code)

  • Standards don't add complexity – they provide an effective tool to include technical details, rather than writing them into law
  • Standards provide an important channel for industry and consumers to have real input into what is 'accepted practice' and what is practical.

New Zealand Standards cost too much and take too long to develop

  • New Zealand Standards are based on achieving consensus and 'buy-in' from industry, government, and community stakeholders using a statutorily mandated process (Standards Act 1988)
  • Our average development timeframe is world leading. On average, New Zealand Standards take about 12 months to develop, including 2 months consultation – about half the time of Australian Standards (24 months) and one third of the time of international Standards (36 months)
  • This compares very favourably to the time taken to develop and implement regulations and the time taken by other Standards-making bodies 
  • Standards projects represent value-for-money given the level of professional and technical input involved
  • There are numerous examples where regulators or industry groups have attempted to develop codes of practice (or compliance guidelines) and ended up spending many times more than the cost of a Standard without achieving a workable result.

Standards committees can get the content wrong

  • The terms of reference for each Standards development committee are set by Standards New Zealand, with input from the sponsor(s) and stakeholders
  • Standards committees are made up of industry experts who are tasked with ensuring each Standard can be implemented in a New Zealand context rather than just being 'technically possible'.

Standards New Zealand develops Standards to generate revenue

  • No, this is incorrect. Standards are only developed or updated at the request of sector stakeholders. Standards New Zealand is not publicly funded and our operating costs are recovered through contracts to develop Standards and sales of published Standards.

Standards committees should not be allowed to set Government 'policy'

  • All Standards are voluntary unless they are given the weight of law by a regulator
  • As a matter of practice, the relevant regulator will always be represented on the Standards committee
  • We note the DBH participates on Standards Committees where a Standard: 1) is being sponsored by the department; and 2) is intended to be referenced as part of the building controls framework
  • Under the Standards Act 1988, Standards that are cited by regulations or incorporated by reference must receive sign-off by the responsible Minister.

The chairs of Standards committees can be biased or ineffective

  • Standards New Zealand works closely with nominating organisations (including the relevant regulator) to ensure Standards committee chairs are robustly selected, well supported during the Standards development process, and manage the process in accordance with the agreed terms of reference.

Seeking your input

Standards New Zealand is looking forward to being engaged in the review and to seeing the Building Act review work programme, but your views and perceptions on how Standards should support the Building Act 2004 are crucial. For example:

  • how do you see Standards being used in the sector?
  • what works well?
  • where are the opportunities for improvement?
  • what is the role of Standards in the building and construction sector?

We want comments from you; our stakeholders – our valued nominating organisations, industry bodies, committee members, and users of Standards – tell us what you think about the Building Act review and the impact on Standards and on Standards New Zealand.

Please email ChiefExecutive@standards.co.nz by 17 November 2009.

Debbie Chin
Chief Executive Officer

Standards New Zealand Distinction Award winner 2009 – Gary Smith, CFO

Gary Smith, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at Standards New Zealand has played a vital role in supporting the achievement of our surplus for the 2008/2009 year – a creditable result in the face of economic downturn. We are delighted to announce that Gary has won the Standards New Zealand 2009 Distinction Award for employee of the year, the highest level of recognition for employees.

'Gary is a team player who consistently displays sustained outstanding performance and he makes a significant contribution to our organisation,' says Michelle Wessing, General Manager Corporate Services.

When our new organisational structure was implemented in October 2008, the role of Chief Accountant that Gary held for some ten years was upgraded to the role of CFO, reporting both to the Chief Executive and General Manager Corporate Services. The CFO role has given Gary the opportunity to clearly demonstrate the technical and commercial expertise he brings to Standards New Zealand.

Gary consistently presents correct and timely financial information to the business in a way that inspires trust and confidence. The information is always presented in a business context, helping decision-makers in their quest for a more businesslike focus.

Members of the strategic leadership team and the Standards Council describe Gary as an individual who always delivers on promises, maintains high accuracy under tight deadlines, zeroes in on the cause of a problem, develops solutions, and communicates analysis and results clearly and concisely the first time.

Congratulations Gary.

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