Creaky building syndrome

Here’s a conspiracy theory. Building, demolition, waste/fill disposal and other resource consent regulations are being suspended in Canterbury following the recent earthquake. Indications are that exemptions to the RMA regime will be granted by order in council, and (among other things) the norm will be to permit building and reconstruction work to take place without delay, the consents being — here’s a phrase — restrospectively validated. It’s plausible that this will serve as a pilot scheme for the government’s next tranche of deregulation in the building industry and resource management sector.

I’m not a civil engineer or an expert in either town planning or disaster reconstruction. But I have a few concerns. There are obvious concerns with the possible quality of workmanship in the immediate term given the new lack of oversight which, at its most lax, could permit any chap with a hammer and a can-do ethic to undertake their own structural work which will need to be be certified (or not) after the fact; other concerns around the likelihood that rights of objection to resource consent applications will apparently be severely curtailed in order to expedite the reconstruction.

But my main concern is over the longer term. A government which has declared itself the enemy of all environmental regulation — in the local government sector, overseen by Rodney Hide, in particular — is making a There Is No Alternative argument to use Canterbury as the test-bed for its latest massive (and this time rather ad-hoc) deregulation project. The project will have two different and contrasting sets of outcomes. In the short term, the volume of reconstruction and reconstruction work will pick up swiftly, providing a shot in the arm both to a flagging construction sector and to a region whose core industries, particularly manufacturing, were hit hard by the economic downturn. This will begin to peak through the coming year or so, coincidentally about the time it takes to get many resource consent applications underway, and not coincidentally, about the time of the next general election. The adverse consequences of a less-regulated construction and resource management sector — let’s coin the term ‘creaky buildings’ — won’t begin to appear until well after that time.

So, expect the 2011 general election to be fought substantially on this topic of deregulation, particularly of the local government sector, and to be fought on the front-foot with Canterbury as the key battleground. The predominant line in rhetoric will be “under the RMA, nothing would have been rebuilt yet”, and we’ll hear all the same assurances as we heard last time. And based on the rapid development and booming construction sector in that region, similar reforms will be proposed across the country. After all, if it’s good enough for Canterbury, why not everywhere else? And just as before, when the creaky buildings constructed under this regime begin to creak, there’s an even chance it’ll be a Labour government which picks up the pieces. Not only is there No Alternative, for a government focused on the short and medium term with an imperative to grow now and pay the bills later, there is no downside.


4 thoughts on “Creaky building syndrome

  1. The new building regs that kick in December this year already go some way towards deregulation – they allow certain activities to take place without consents and inspections:

    Problem I have with this are the examples the Minister (Maurice Williamson) gave to illustrate our new freedoms – porches and verandas, for example.

    Actually, building a new porch or veranda is a high risk activity because it is a structure that is adjoined to the main house. At every point of connection between the house and the porch or veranda there is the possibility of leaking. It needs to be built right, with correct flashings, etc.

    No permits and no inspections, and being undertaken by DIYers? I can’t for the life of me see how this solves the leaky homes problem!

    But what the hey, it gets rid of some of those pesky regulations that are so holding back efficiency and growth. And we know that the builder (if you use one) can be held accountable for their work.. if you can find them, if they have any assets, if you can prove the leaks are a direct result of their workmanship…

  2. Pingback: Kiwipolitico » Blog Archive » No democracy on the honour system

  3. Napier after it’s earthquake was rebuilt and became a town showcasing “Art Deco” era.
    Christchurch with this suspension of regulations is now in danger of becoming the town showcasing the “Cheap as chips property developer” era.

    With the lack of building regulations I have a fear that corners will be cut by developers…. It leaves too much trust in them to ‘do the right thing’.
    IMO if they can save a buck in design and construction and think they can get away with it, they will try it.
    Not all developers will be like that, but there will be a few for sure.

  4. And interestingly, Don Brash in his live chat on Granny’s site yesterday said that ‘fixing’ the RMA so that people could do whatever they wanted on the their property so long as it didn’t hurt anyone else, would be the one reform he would make, if he had to choose just one.

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