KiwiBuy Kiwi Beg KiwiFail

May 15, 2018

KiwBuild was supposed to add 100,000 houses for those struggling to get into their first home.

But KiwiBuild has turned into KiwiBuy or even KiwiBeg.

The government buying houses that were going to be built anyway will put public money at risk without adding a single extra dwelling to the nation’s housing stock.

The housing shortage is caused by an imbalance between supply and demand.

There are several reasons for that including a consent process akin to trying to run through a river of treacle in gumboots.

Not PC gives some examples of the hoops that add time and cost to the process:

. . .In recent months, for example, and like every regular applicant for building consents, I’ve spent many, many hours replying to council’s Requests for Further Information (RFIs). These days it’s often less about being a designer than it is about being a lawyer, explaining the building code clauses to the processor at the other end of an email.

The simplest RFI responses are to tell the questioner where precisely in the document set they can find the answer to their question, already addressed. But in recent months it’s been getting worse. Among other things, in order to keep things moving I’ve been required to tell council the make and model of a shower and the finish of a bathroom cabinet; the colour of bedroom carpets (accompanied by a calculation to show they’re bright enough); the normal process by which to pour a concrete footing in engineered soil, to abandon approved details because the territorial authority has decided they don’t like them, and to replace them with those they’ve now decided they do; to discuss the acoustics of polystyrene sheets (that are not being used for acoustic purposes); to resupply calculations and statements that the processor has already received, but lost; to explain why handrails are not required on steps with fewer than two treads, and how an opening window into an open lightwell allows light and air into a room; to draw up a list of a project’s “construction and demolition hazards”; to provide mechanical ventilation rates for areas we’ve shown will use natural ventilation; to draw up simple diagrams because processors are unable to read fairly standard plans; to confirm the use of smoke detectors (when they’ve already been clearly placed and labelled on drawings); and (in the absence of council finding anything else to ask about) to draw a detail of a bathroom splashback — just some examples of recent Requests from processors, all of which have wasted my time and theirs, unnecessarily dragging out the consenting process, and all at the time and expense of clients who were once very eager to build. . .

The worst example that I’ve come across was an applicant being asked to draw on a plan where the furniture would go.

If the government was really serious about a long-term solution to housing it would be addressing problems with the Resource Managment Act and building regulations.

It would also ensure council staff stop playing silly beggars with the consent process.

Until that happens KiwiBuild, KiwiBuy and KiwiBeg will be KiwiFail.

 

 

 


Check your swtich board regularly

September 23, 2015

The power went out in our office.

We called an electrician who found this in the switchboard:

switch

The whole board was replaced when we altered two years ago.

The electrician found some of the what-nots (for which there is a technical term which escapes me as I type) needed tightening – some because they can come loose over time, some because they’d never been tightened properly in the first place.

Friends lost power recently and the cause was also found to be due to over-heating in the switch board.

The Fire Service reminds us all to check our smoke alarms when the clocks go forward and back (mutter, mumble, forward this weekend, which is at least three weeks too early). It would pay to check switch boards at the same time.


Targeting earthquake risk

May 11, 2015

Building and Housing Minister Dr Nick Smith announced a targeted approach to building regulations for earthquake safety at the National Party’s Mainland conference yesterday:

“The priority in developing this earthquake strengthening policy for buildings is public safety and minimising future fatalities. We also need to ensure the response is proportionate to the risk, that the costs are minimised and that we retain as much of our built heritage as possible,” Dr Smith says.

The four significant changes to the policy are:

  • Varying the timetable for strengthening relative to earthquake risk
  • Prioritising education and emergency buildings for strengthening
  • Reducing the number of buildings requiring assessment; and
  • Introducing new measures to encourage earlier upgrades.

“The timeframe for identification and assessment of five years and strengthening of 15 years is to be varied relative to seismic risk. The return period for a significant earthquake (MM8) ranges from 120 years in Wellington, to 720 years in Christchurch, to 1700 years in Dunedin, and only once every 7400 years in Auckland. New Zealand is to be categorised into low, medium and high seismic risk zones with timeframes for assessment of five, 10 and 15 years and strengthening of 15, 25 and 35 years,” Dr Smith says.

“Education and emergency buildings will be targeted by requiring that in high and medium seismic risk areas they be identified and strengthened in half the standard time. We are prioritising all education buildings regularly occupied by 20 people or more. We also want to ensure buildings like hospitals can maintain services in the aftermath of a significant earthquake.

“The scope of buildings requiring assessment is to be reduced from an estimated 500,000 to 30,000. We are excluding farm buildings, retaining walls, fences, monuments, wharves, bridges, tunnels and storage tanks. The new methodology for identifying earthquake-prone buildings will ensure the focus is on older buildings like unreinforced masonry that pose the greatest risk.

“Building owners are to be encouraged to upgrade their buildings ahead of the allowable timeframe by establishing a web based public register and requiring notices on such buildings highlighting the level of risk. There will also be a new requirement to strengthen earthquake-prone buildings when doing substantial alterations.”

The Government also confirmed that the earthquake-prone building definition as being less than 34 per cent of the new building standard (NBS), a 10-year extension for listed heritage buildings, and exemptions from strengthening for low risk, low occupancy buildings, would remain in the policy.

“The effect of these policy changes is that buildings like schools, universities and hospitals in high and medium seismic risk areas will have to be upgraded more quickly, but buildings in low risk areas like Auckland and Dunedin more gradually. This more targeted approach reduces the estimated cost from $1360 million to $777 million while retaining the safety gains. The policy will result in an estimated 330 fewer deaths and 360 fewer serious injuries from earthquakes over the next century,” Dr Smith says.

“The select committee is considering the Bill and will be reporting back to Parliament in July with passage later this year. We will also be consulting on the detailed regulations like the assessment methodology, the Earthquake-Prone Buildings Register, the building notice requirements and the definition of substantial alterations.

“There are no easy answers to the seismic risk posed by thousands of older buildings in New Zealand. We cannot completely eliminate the risk to life, nor save every heritage building, nor avoid a bill for hundreds of millions in upgrading. This is the most comprehensive policy of any seismically active country for dealing with older buildings and strikes the right balance between safety, cost, heritage and practicality.”

The Minister’s full speech is here.

The schedule of the revised timetable by location is here.

A map of the new zones is here.

This policy is pragmatic and practical and has been greeted positively.

The Construction Strategy Group says it is realistic:

The targeted risk-based policy adopted by the Government toward strengthening of earthquake-prone buildings appears realistic for the circumstances with which the country is dealing says the Construction Strategy Group (CSG).

Chairman of the CSG, Geoff Hunt, said today that in adopting a measured position reflective of the realities that earthquake risk in New Zealand varies significantly between regions the Government was taking a realistic approach.

“A policy which puts aside more onerous and unreasonable requirements for upgrading commercial structures in low risk regions, and disposes of top level upgrades for little-used farm sheds and such buildings as isolated rural country churches, is practical and sensible,” he says.

“The CSG has long advocated a policy that takes account of risk factors. It is supportive of the intention to set a ‘must upgrade’ base line of 34 percent of today’s new building standard. The new time frames for upgrading earthquake-prone structures are also helpful in bringing cost factors into line with affordability.

“The regional categorisation of regions into low, medium and high risk zones will allow local government to take a realistic policy approach.

“The openness to public scrutiny of a building’s earthquake resistance status is also helpful to public safety. It will also ensure constant pressure on building owners with at risk buildings to have them brought up to speed sooner rather than later.

“Priority focus on upgrading the 30,000 most at risk buildings and on upgrading schools and hospitals is a matter of necessity.”

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said the move was positive:

He said strengthening must still go ahead, but he was pleased Dr Smith had listened to the concerns of southern councils which had lobbied him ”intensively” for two years for change.

”To his credit, he’s listened to those concerns and yes, he will [now] adjust according to [earthquake] risk,” Mr Cull said when contacted last night.

Mr Cull said the ”one size fits all” edict had been detrimental to the lower South Island because of the large number of older buildings.

”Basically, it would have been uneconomic to fix [earthquake proof] them and a lot would have had to be demolished,” Mr Cull said.

The first policy proposed for earthquake safety measures took no account of risk.

Owners of historic buildings in low risk areas like Oamaru and Dunedin would have been forced to demolish their buildings because they would not have been able to do meet the proposed standard in the proposed time.

This policy takes a much more balanced approach based on risk.

It doesn’t mean that earthquakes won’t strike low risk areas nor that a quake won’t kill people.

The Minister rightly says We cannot completely eliminate the risk to life, nor save every heritage building, nor avoid a bill for hundreds of millions in upgrading.

This policy balances risk and cost.


10 major changes to RMA proposed

January 22, 2015

The government will be including 10 major changes to the Resource Management Act in the second stage of reforms:

Overhauling the Resource Management Act (RMA) is critical to addressing housing supply and affordability, and maintaining the momentum of economic and job growth as well as better managing New Zealand’s environment, Dr Nick Smith said today in his 20th annual speech to Nelson Rotary.

“The Resource Management Act has produced over 80,000 pages of plans and rules across New Zealand’s 78 councils. This 10-metre mountain of red tape is holding back the development of new houses and jobs, and it is not performing well enough in managing key resources like freshwater,” Dr Smith says.

“The Government is planning the most significant overhaul of the Act since its inception 25 years ago. We want to modernise the purpose to make it more practical and relevant, standardise council plans and simplify the process for gaining consents.”

It shouldn’t be necessary for every council to have their own individual plans and rules for every aspect of resource management and planning. At least some of these could be standard across the whole country.

Dr Smith today also released an independent report by Motu Economic and Public Policy Research – commissioned by the Treasury and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment – into the impacts of planning rules, regulations, uncertainty and delay in residential property development.

The report concludes that the RMA is adding an extra $30,000 to the cost of an apartment, an extra $15,000 to the cost of a home, and that it is reducing the capacity of housing development by 22 per cent.

“This report is consistent with the conclusions of the Productivity Commission and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in highlighting the high administrative burden of our system of environmental regulations, but also adds new information by estimating the actual cost of its flaws. It indicates that over the last decade, the RMA has added $30 billion to the cost of building and reduced new housing stock by 40,000 homes,” Dr Smith says.

Dr Smith also cited practical examples in his speech of where the RMA had wasted health and education funding, and where councils were using the RMA to unnecessarily interfere in people’s lives.

“Our first phase of RMA reforms has made a positive difference in getting consents processed more quickly, including for major projects like the Waterview Connection in Auckland, but we have always made plain more substantive change was required,” Dr Smith says.

Dr Smith outlined ten major changes the Government would be including in its second phase of reforms in 2015:
• Add natural hazards
• Recognise urban planning
• Prioritise housing affordability
• Acknowledge importance of infrastructure
• Greater weight to property rights
• National planning templates
• Speed up plan-making
• Encouraging collaborative resolution
• Strengthening national tools
• Internet for simplicity and speed

“Today’s speech sets the direction for reform. We have a power of work ahead to do with officials, our support parties and Cabinet committees to finalise and draft the required Bill. Our ambition is to have the Bill before Parliament and through a full select committee process this year,” Dr Smith says.

“These reforms will be pragmatic and moderate. We want to reduce the mountain of plans and rules that make the RMA a barrier to new housing and jobs, but retain the core environmental controls that ensure we keep New Zealand special and such a great place to live.”

The proposed changes won’t discount the importance of the environment but will ensure that environmental, economic and social considerations are in balance.

The full speech is here. In it Dr smith says:

The big challenge in the environmental area is finding a path that better manages New Zealand’s water, air, oceans and native flora and fauna while
enabling our economy to grow and prosper. Key priorities this year will be passing a new Environment Reporting Act to give greater clarity to New
Zealand’s important clean, green brand. . . .

Environmental protection and enhancement and economic development aren’t mutually exclusive.

 . . . the most challenging of my jobs this year will be the reform of the Resource Management Act. The Act, in governing the use of water, land, air and the coast, and which is responsible for protecting heritage, native plants and animals is so wide-ranging that it has implications right across the economy and into almost every facet of life.

There is not a single official anywhere who understands this huge pile of RMA plans and rules. Even at a local level, only a few individuals working in council or in planning consultancy will fully understand how the rules work in their city or district. . .

If they don’t understand it how can anyone else?

  The OECD published in November a comparative study of its 34 member countries on the cost burden of environmental regulation. In most OECD reports New Zealand ranks very well as a good place to do business and create jobs. We ranked bottom when it came to the administrative burden of the Resource Management Act. I have no problem where there are costs to achieve good environmental outcomes. The OECD study actually showed that many countries had more stringent
environmental policies than New Zealand but a far lesser administrative burden.

A key difference of the New Zealand system of environmental regulation under the RMA is that we have a very fragmented system where there are
differing rules in every district and region, and secondly that we require consents for most activities when most other countries simply had national
standards that had to be met.

National standards would be far better for many activities.

Examples can be more powerful than national or international studies. I get inundated with hundreds of complaints from all corners of New Zealand and
from people from all walks of life with frustrations over their experience with the RMA.

My first example is the Stoke Medical Centre, a typical suburban GP clinic on Main Road Stoke, employing 15 full-time staff. Three years ago the practice
wanted to expand its staff and extend its permissible opening hours. This required a change to their resource consent which Council ruled under the Act
had to be notified. Six months and $57,000 of bills later the amended consent was granted with the requirement that they had to provide seven new bike
stands. And this cost excluded the time doctors and practice staff had spent on the process. The bike stands cost $35 each but the bureaucratic paper
associated with each meant they ended up costing over $8000 a stand. The tragedy of this case is that the $57,000 consent cost will ultimately come out
of the health budget and people’s GP charges in an area where there are many low income struggling families and retirees.

It is not just health dollars that are being wasted under the RMA. The resource consenting process for Nelson’s new Young Parents’ School
officially opened by the Prime Minister last year was a fiasco. The new school is smart social policy aimed at supporting teenage mums by enabling them to
continue their education, while also ensuring their pre -school children are engaged in education from an early age. The school is sited at Auckland
Point School where the roll is a lot less than the school’s capacity. The Principal and Board of Trustees fully supported the initiative being on their
school site.

The problem was that the school is designated under the RMA for “primary education” and the Young Parents School was about providing education for
secondary school age mums and early childhood education for their children. This meant under the RMA a change of designation, notification of neighbours
and a full Commissioner hearing at a direct cost of $64,000. There would have been no change out of $100,000 if you included the considerable staff
time of the Education Ministry, Kindergarten Association and school. This process also delayed the Young Parents School’s opening by more than a
year. More was spent on the RMA bureaucracy than on the facility for the specialist teachers, young mums and their babies.

The nonsense of this case is that the RMA is meant to be about protecting the environment and whether Auckland Point School has primary, pre-school or
secondary students, makes not a jot of difference. The early childhood regulations and building consent requirements are separate and ensure the facilities are safe and appropriate. More good would have been achieved for the environment had the $64,000 of cash been deposited in the school’s composting bins.

I could give hundreds of examples of the RMA wrecking Kiwi family dreams of building their own home. I choose this Nelson example because it illustrates how far council planners under the RMA are now intruding into people’s lives. A couple in their 60s bought a 630 square metre flat section in Sanctuary Drive in the Marsden Valley. Their architectural designer produced plans for their dream home that included an internal access garage in the front corner to minimise the portion of the section used for the driveway and located their living area so as to maximise the sun. The orientation was similar to 14 other homes in the subdivision. They were gobsmacked to have their consent application declined on the basis of a new RMA rule that had just come into
effect in late 2012. They were told they had to relocate the garage out the back and have their living area face the road. 

The RMA justification for rejecting the design was that the house failed to provide for a “positive private to public space relationship”. In plain language they wanted the living area to face the road so the residents would keep a safe eye on the street. The couple abandoned the section at a cost of many thousands of dollars. So much for a person’s home being their castle.

The RMA is being used to micro-manage building designs down to the extent of what direction people should look.

This sort of madness has been repeated in Auckland and had property magnate Bob Jones venting his spleen late last year. He owns a 17-storey CBD building and wanted to re-establish a ground-floor shop window that had been blocked off by a previous tenant. Not only did this minor work require a $4500 resource consent, but because it would have people looking out on a designated heritage site, the consent required a cultural impact statement and consultation with 13 iwi. This is all for permission to replace a window!

This isn’t only madness, it’s expensive, wasteful and the triumph of bureaucracy over common sense.

These and many other examples show why change is needed.

The Motu Economic and Public Policy Research report is here.

 


Whose property is it?

November 3, 2014

The High Court has ruled against a property owner’s appeal for permission to demolish a building he owns:

The eight-storey Harcourts Building on Lambton Quay, which was built in 1928, has been declared earthquake prone and most of its major tenants have left.

Its owner, Mark Dunajtschik, says he cannot afford to strengthen the building, but after one consent hearing and three court cases he has been told he cannot demolish it. . . .

In seeking the right to demolish, Mr Dunajtschik argued earthquake strengthening would cost $12 million, which was not worth it for a building worth just $14.5 million.

However, the court ruled an earthquake-strengthened historic building would be worth $18 to 20 million, changing the economics completely.

Property magnate Sir Bob Jones, who gave evidence to the hearing, thinks the post-strengthing value of the Harcourts Building would be even greater, and accused Mr Dunajtschik of not understanding the market.

Mr Dunajtschik declined to respond to that.

The Environment Court ruling leaves everyone in limbo, saying only that the building cannot be demolished. It does nothing for a building owner who does not earn enough from it to pay for its upkeep.

The ruling also does little for public safety, since the building would not be legally required to be strengthened for at least another decade.

Nor does it do much for a nearby tower block housing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which the Environment Court itself says could collide with the Harcourts Building during a major earthquake, and have its lift shaft wrecked.

The owners of Christchurch Cathedral have permission to demolish the building which suffered major earthquake damage but a community group is fighting to have it rebuilt.

A poll  found that 51 per cent of people want the cathedral restored, compared to 43 per cent who want it demolished and replaced with a new building.

About 77 per cent of those polled believe Christchurch people should have a say in the future of the cathedral, while 58 per cent feel a close tie to the building and would be sad to see it demolished. A majority of 68 per cent of those polled believe restoring the cathedral would be a morale boost for the city.

The poll found that 66 per cent of people believe it is possible to restore the cathedral.

More people – 66 per cent – want the cathedral to be restored if there would be no cost to the ratepayer and it would cost about the same as a new building.Thirty per cent would still be in favour of a new cathedral even if there was a cost to ratepayers. . .

The ratepayers don’t own the cathedral and the poll didn’t take into account the safety risks in rebuilding.

In both cases the property rights of the owners are being overlooked.

Whether or not the value of the Wellington building would be higher if it was strengthened, the decision on how and how much money the owner spends should be his unless those telling him he can’t demolish it are willing to contribute to the costs of strengthening it.

The cathedral owners have made the decision to build a new cathedral on the site of the old one on the grounds of safety and cost.

It is their building, their money and their risk and therefore their decision.

Property rights are an important plank of democracy which are eroded if other people can dictate what owners do without compensating them.


Rules reduction task force launched

October 21, 2014

Local Government Minister Paula Bennett has launched the Rules Reduction initiative, opening the way for people to submit examples of property regulations and local rules that don’t make sense.

“People can now head to http://www.govt.nz/rulesreduction, to start telling us what bugs them when it comes to loopy rules and regulations,” says Mrs Bennett.

“I’m also pleased to announce the Rules Reduction Taskforce will be jointly chaired by Jacqui Dean MP, Parliamentary Private Secretary for Local Government, and Michael Barnett ONZM, Chief Executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.

“Both Jacqui and Michael bring with them a strong understanding of the local government and business sectors and will be well placed to guide the Taskforce in its work to cut red tape.

The remaining members of the Taskforce will be appointed within the next month, and will include central and local government experts, and specialists from the building and trades sector, with further announcements to come on the timeline for the Taskforce’s work.

“I’m asking property owners, builders, tradespeople and businesses who have experienced the issues caused by irrelevant or unnecessary regulations, to help draw these to our attention,” says Mrs Bennett.

The information gathered will inform the Taskforce, which will consider submissions and ultimately recommend any necessary changes.

“Central and local government need regulations which are effective, and help get the job done – not get in the way. Regulations that frustrate property owners and business people also suck up councils’ precious resources in administration time and effort.”

“We need to hear from New Zealanders about examples that have got in the way of their building, renovation, landscaping, and home improvement plans, so that we can cut the red tape where it needs to be cut, to help them get on with the job.”

The submission form can be filled out online at http://www.govt.nz/rulesreduction

Facebook (facebook.com/cutredtapenz) and Twitter (twitter.com/CutRedTapeNZ) will be used to spread the word and encourage submissions via the online form to the Taskforce.

When we were altering our home last year, our builder told us he reckoned legislation, most of which was unnecessary had added about $20,000 to the cost of a new home.

Some rules are necessary for safety’s sake and to protect people from shoddy standards.

But this task force should have no shortage of rules which at least need to be simplified and probably could be done away with altogether.

And building won’t be the only area where fewer rules could reduce costs without causing any harm.


Why not make it permanent?

July 1, 2014

Import tariffs on a range of building products will be temporarily suspended from today – a measure which is expected to reduce housing costs and increase competition in the residential construction sector, Housing Minister Dr Nick Smith and Commerce Minister Craig Foss.

“The building materials covered by the tariff suspension comprise about 90 per cent of the cost of the material in an average new house. Currently, these materials attract tariffs and duties that add an estimated $3500 to the cost of a new home. These will be cut to zero per cent tomorrow for at least the next five years,” Dr Nick Smith says.

“The scheme includes a comprehensive list of materials such as roofing, cladding, framing, windows, doors, insulation, plumbing and electrical components, fixed cabinetry, paint and builders’ hardware and fixings,” Dr Smith says.

“New Zealand is a small market for building materials. While we would prefer as much content as possible is locally manufactured, we need the competitive pressure of imported products to ensure we are getting best value for money,” Mr Foss says.

“It is through competition and choice for consumers that we keep costs down.”

The tariff suspension comes off the back of the Budget 2014 initiative to temporarily remove anti-dumping duties for building materials, for which legislation was passed under Budget urgency in May. The temporary suspension of tariffs on building materials will reduce Crown revenue by $5.5 million each year, which was provided for in Budget 2014.

“Suspending import tariffs on building materials is consistent with this Government’s strong public commitment to address housing affordability, particularly given the need for building materials for the Canterbury rebuild and increased construction activity across the country,” Dr Smith says.

“There is no single magical solution to improving housing affordability. We are freeing up land supply, reining in development contributions, cutting compliance costs and investing in skills and productivity in the construction sector. It is about making a whole lot of changes like removing tariffs and duties that aggregate together to make homes more affordable.”

I have just one problem with this – that the removal of tariffs is temporary.

When we spend a lot of time and energy extolling the benefits of free trade to other countries we have to be open to imports ourselves.

Tariffs protect inefficient producers and add costs to everyone who builds something new or repairs something old.

Why not make the suspension of tariffs permanent?


%d bloggers like this: