NZIBS calls for debate around New Zealand’s current building models

London’s fatal Grenfell Tower fire has raised questions of the adequacy of building systems worldwide, and New Zealand is no exception, says an industry expert.

Maynard Marks, director and New Zealand Institute of Building Surveyors (NZIBS) pastpresident, Trevor Jones, says it’s time to turn our attention towards New Zealand’s own building and construction regulatory processes to determine whether they are fit for purpose.

New Zealand’s building industry has had a tough time, he says, including the more recent leaky-building problem and the impact of earthquakes in Christchurch.

“We also have other issues relating to building performance problems around the suitability of test standards for imported building systems and materials, as well as the quality of building stock relating to fire performance.” Trevor says.

“Looking at what is happening here and internationally, we have plenty of reasons to review our processes with the potential to amend the current building regulatory model we have in place.”

Trevor says we must also look at implementing a changing methodology of construction, even though it will evoke a lot of disruption around construction practice.

“Technological advances may lead to a disruption to the traditional way of designing and constructing, but if harnessed adequately, they could lead to much better outcomes,” he says.

An example already taking place in other developed countries is the movement towards pre-manufacture value (PMV).

“PMV is essentially onsite assembly, as opposed to onsite construction. It’s about constructing things as much as possible in a better controlled environment, and delivering the product on site, ready to be assembled.”

He says it is a more efficient and an economic way to work, as you can iron out quality problems off-site, rather than relying on a diminishing skill base onsite.

According to Trevor, this isn’t new technology.

“Many western-based economies are already onto this. In New Zealand, with KiwiBuild as an important growth driver, we need to start taking a collaborative approach.

“We need to start thinking about a new way of building. There’s a lot of demographic pressures in the building and construction sectors. So, we can’t afford to lose too many people in the industry.”

As baby boomers are retiring, years of skill is potentially leaving without being replaced.

“That means we need to encourage the younger generation with fresh ideas to come in, whilst we are still around to provide that knowledge base and experience to guide them.

“Using the cookie cutter analogy, if you get the PMV mixture wrong and it fails, if you have two million of those models, you now have two million problems.”

To keep up with the industry internationally, he says we need to train and retrain more home-grown talent, through creating more attractive long-term career opportunities.

“This will prepare us to be able to do more with less resources in the future.”

To help do this, we need to create a new focus for this industry to achieve better outcomes.

“We need to use the current demand for affordable dwellings to underpin the evolution of new skills and training, which will make us more productive and attract a new generation of workers.”

But ultimately, New Zealand’s construction sector will require industry-led change to take hold. Clients, industry participants, advisors and financiers all have a key role to play in this.

“The political demand is certainly there, but it will be a tough job to get it done in the government’s cycle of three years.”

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