As Minister for Building and Construction, my job is to ensure New Zealand has an efficient building regulatory system that encourages innovation, while ensuring buildings are safe, healthy and durable.
My priorities are to support the wider transformation of the construction industry and help enable KiwiBuild.
There are four essential parts to the building system and my work programme has a focus on each of them: people, processes, products and building performance requirements. All four elements need to work together for the system to work.
Both the current building regulatory system and the construction sector itself have challenges. My work programme is designed to reform the system, which currently operates under a complex regulatory and compliance regime and is struggling to meet labour demands.
To meet the challenge of KiwiBuild, the traditional building model needs to be disrupted and reformed. We need a flexible industry that supports innovation and new ways of doing things. We need options that include large scale manufacture and a focus on medium density housing.
Although there are challenges, there are also opportunities to improve our building regulatory system and future-proof it to better meet our housing needs.
Construction methods and processes are evolving with the adoption of new technologies, new products and innovative building methods.
As Minister for Building and Construction my number one priority is addressing the shortage of skilled construction workers. Our current predicted workforce shortfall is based on traditional construction methods and traditional business models. However, we know that methods such as off-site construction will have a big impact on how we build and the skills that are needed to build.
I have established a Ministerial Group on the Construction Workforce to ensure we develop the construction workforce that New Zealand needs currently and also for the future.
We are developing a Skills Strategy and Action Plan that will shortly go to Cabinet. I am seeking Cabinet’s agreement in principle so that I can consult with the sector about our vision and plan. Government alone cannot address the skills gap – sector ownership and participation is essential for us to succeed.
The Building Code system is performancebased – it states how buildings should perform, rather than exactly how they should be built. This allows flexibility for innovation.
However, I know that demonstrating Code compliance can be difficult in practice, and the system is not easy to access and understand. This can lead to an over-reliance on traditional, established methods or designs, and on established consenting processes.
The system needs clear compliance pathways for a wide range of housing types, and to better reflect the role medium-density housing, offsite and potentially offshore construction will play in New Zealand’s urban future.
Building consenting processes are a key way the system can support KiwiBuild. We need to incentivise everyone involved in the building process to carry out work effectively and efficiently.
I will be looking at opportunities to improve consenting consistency and efficiency across regions. We also want to assist with and normalise the increasingly important role that medium-density housing and off-site construction will play in New Zealand’s urban future.
I am also looking at the allocation of risk and liability in the building process and considering how to ensure this doesn’t increase compliance costs, decrease productivity and stifle innovation.
MBIE will explore options for rebalancing risk and liability so parties take appropriate responsibility for their work, councils are not driven to be over-cautious and are more open to innovation, and consumers are protected if things go wrong.
I will be reviewing New Zealand’s building product regulation and assurance systems. We need to think about the full range from product design, manufacture and supply, through to specifying products for use in building work, and their installation and maintenance. Product supply chains are national and international, as are the stakeholders that MBIE needs to engage with in the review.
This work is at an early stage and includes consideration of roles and responsibilities and options for taking a risk-based approach, rather than the current voluntary model, obligations on product manufacturers and suppliers, enforcement powers and information flow. The review is expected to take about 18 months.
This is an exciting time for New Zealand’s building and construction sector. The industry’s future will be shaped by innovation and change, which will help grow sector productivity.