The compliance certification rules currently in place with regard to the design and construction of buildings in New South Wales have problems in many areas and lack clarity and accountability, builders throughout the state say.
In a recent bulletin outlining outcomes from feedback and consultation sessions conducted earlier this year to canvass views about the current certification regime and options for improvement going forward, the New South Wales Building Professionals Board (BPB) says builders highlighted a number of shortcomings associated with the current system and want more clarification regarding who is accountable for what, clearer guidelines for inspections, tighter accreditation standards and more stringent requirements regarding mandatory indemnity insurance.
Feedback received during the consultation process will be used in the NSW Planning System Review and the extended review of the Building Professionals Act, the board says.
In short, feedback participants identified four key areas where improvement is needed.
1) Consumer Protection
There were issues relating to consumer protection regarding building defects, with builders citing a lack of qualified people in the construction process and limited insurance protection associated with a lack of an across-the-board requirement for all building practitioners to hold professional indemnity insurance.
Significant areas of building defects – structural, fire safety, wet areas/waterproofing problems – are primarily being caused by problems associated with a lack of on-site inspections, construction not being carried out to specifications, a lack of a coordinated approach to trades work and pressures regarding cost reduction and the fast tracking of work.
What is needed, feedback participants say, is clearer identification of who is responsible for defects as well as who is responsible for certifying designs for fire safety systems, engineering plans, bushfire protection, energy efficiency and wet areas/waterproofing.
Also, they said, professional indemnity insurance should be mandatory for all contractors involved in the building process.
2) Certification of Design Compliance
The second problem area revolves around the reliability of the certification of the design compliance of buildings. Respondents spoke of the poor quality of documentation and difficulties associated with the poor standard of development consent conditions.
In this regard, conference attendees complained of a lack of specified minimum detail as to what should be looked for, a lack of clarity about who is responsible for providing this certification and overly broad statements of intent that fail to ensure proper certification of design.
The BPB says attendees have called for plans to be prepared by accredited persons, clearer wording and conditions of consent, standardised certification and comprehensive documentation and certification by accredited persons.
3) Certification of the Construction Process
Builders also talked about a multitude of problems around the certification of the construction process.
These include a lack of clarity surrounding section 96 modification processes for development consents, and the possibility that development consents can be approved after work has been undertaken; inspections being limited to what is visible at the time they are undertaken; documentation not always being available during inspections; mandatory inspections having limited coverage, some missed mandatory inspections not being avoidable; supervision not being sufficient for the work being undertaken; the work occurring not being consistent with the development consent; the Principal Certifying Authority (PCA) having to meet unreasonable expectations and the roles of the PCA and council being unclear.
In this regard, feedback participants want a number of changes, including additional mandatory inspections, guidelines and checklists for inspections, a standardised inspection process, greater supervision of on-site work, realistic expectations about the extent of the role of the PCA through better public education, and a clearer definition of the PCA’s role and responsibilities.
4) Lack of Accountability
Perhaps more than anything, attendees spoke of an overall lack of accountability for builders and contractors throughout the entire process, with problems revolving around a lack of qualification, education and competency requirements on the part of people issuing certificates and an overall lack of requirements regarding jobs having to be performed by licensed builders in all circumstances.
Accountability, attendees say, needs to be more equitable and widespread, minimum accreditation standards must be in place and certification should have to be performed by licensed, independent professionals.
Also, they say, building designers, the overall principal contractor, engineers and service designers, installers, town planners and fire safety systems installers should all have to be accredited.