Tackling quality control

This Issue This is a part of the Accountability feature

By - , Build 150

Reports of widespread shoddy building work are a warning to the industry that needs heeding. With many issues arising from lack of supervision or know-how, Auckland Council is tackling the problem head on.

Some of the many new houses in Auckland. (Please note that use of this photo does not imply problems with the houses shown.)
Some of the many new houses in Auckland. (Please note that use of this photo does not imply problems with the houses shown.)

WITH UP TO ONE-THIRD of all building inspections currently being failed by Auckland Council, maintaining quality needs to be an industry-wide focus.

Lack of oversight and focus on quality

As the building boom gathers pace, tradespeople with greatly varying skill levels have flooded into the industry, and some supervisors are being asked to take on more jobs than they can effectively handle.

In some cases, there is a lack of coordination between the subtrades working on a site, with no one person taking overall ownership of the job. The issues being seen ultimately come down to a lack of focus on quality work.

Auckland Council is also shutting down around two sites a week because of dangerous excavation work. This problem is increasing as the city’s growth intensifies and more challenging infill housing sites become worth building on.

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Collaboration one of the solutions

To address some of these issues, the council building inspection team is working closely with concerned industry groups such as Registered Master Builders and Certified Builders.

The two key prongs of the council’s quality strategy involve working with relevant professional affiliations to:

  • provide industry with a greater awareness of current issues
  • develop quality assurance tools for use on site.

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Designing quality assurance tools

Working together, council and industry groups are looking at designing some simple quality assurance tools that builders can use to make it easier to manage different subtrades working on a site.

The quality tools would involve someone signing off the key structural elements and milestones of the build. It would provide a simple system to ensure the work has been checked off as compliant with the approved plans before the inspector arrives. This should mean less rework and less need for regulatory oversight intervention.

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Incentives for best practice

The council is also working with central government on how to provide real incentives for practitioners with robust quality systems in place.

The current Licensed Building Practitioners Scheme is a great initiative – it’s an element of the best-functioning building regulatory regime worldwide. However, it is at an early stage of maturity, and a small percentage of LBPs aren’t yet taking their responsibilities seriously enough.

The recently formed New Zealand Chinese Building Industry Association is welcome. This will champion best industry practice, as the Chinese community is involved with a significant percentage of houses built in Auckland.

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Speeding up building consents

In other initiatives, the council is also working with professional organisations to find ways to speed up the approval of building consents.

It has developed a Standard House Partnership programme with group homebuilders, speeding up building consents for houses from an agreed range of standard designs. The use of agreed planned layouts and detailing reduce the risks at design stage. The applications are typically processed within 5 working days where no site issues or drainage problems exist.

Speeding up the process for the larger organisations makes sense. It frees up resource so we can better serve other sectors of the industry who may require a higher level of support.

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Help to make consenting easy

A ‘consenting made easy’ programme is also being developed to improve the way customers experience the consenting process. As part of this work, council have spoken with a large number of customers representing a cross-section of the industry.

The programme has engagement from all elements of the council, including Auckland Transport and Watercare. It incorporates a project to enable the application of building consents online.

Initially, this online service is only available for group homebuilders due to system constraints. However, we’re pleased with the feedback we are receiving so far.

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Problems present opportunities

Despite some of the current issues around quality control, there are big opportunities to improve the way we are working, with better coordination between council, government and the industry.

The big focus for us, and central government, is working on the system so that everyone on a build has an eye on the end outcome – a quality, performing building. This will enable the council to take a step back.

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A problem but not a crisis

It’s important to keep things in perspective. Yes, we are concerned, but this is not another leaky building crisis. What we are seeing tends to be typically one-off issues resulting from a lack of supervision or know-how. To a large extent, these are being identified and resolved.

Being a realist, I know that some things will slip through the cracks. This not only impacts built quality, it continues to have a detrimental impact on the productivity of the sector.

As an industry and community, we need to work collaboratively to find the answers.

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Some of the many new houses in Auckland. (Please note that use of this photo does not imply problems with the houses shown.)
Some of the many new houses in Auckland. (Please note that use of this photo does not imply problems with the houses shown.)