Automatic approval of building materials certified in trusted countries would be a major step forward for New Zealand construction – but only if they’ve got the balance sheet to stand behind it.

Allowing building materials certified in Europe, British and American jurisdictions without going through a lengthy approval process was one of key proposals put forward in National’s Better Building and Construction plan released yesterday.

National says regulations governing construction materials are too rigid, leading to a lack of competition and breakdowns in the building materials supply chain, such as the recent Gib crisis.

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Naylor Love chief executive Rick Herd said New Zealand essentially operated to the same product standards as Europe and North America so eliminating the approval process made a lot of sense.

There has been some understandable hesitation to use lesser-known products in construction in New Zealand because of the leaky building crisis. So newly introduced or developed products for use in high-risk areas such as bathrooms and roofing would still require testing by a small group of advisers.

In an interview with Newsroom, Herd acknowledged there was always a slight risk of foreign products not being up to New Zealand conditions.

“A company might choose to take a product from overseas, it might have been certified in the UK or the US, but it could be brought out to New Zealand and for whatever reason, it’s not applicable to the New Zealand situation and it fails.

“The important thing is the contracting organisation that’s using that product is big enough and has the balance sheet to stand behind it if it fails, and that is what we need in this country.”

Naylor Love has had this experience itself, having used products that were sold as being up to New Zealand standards but simply weren’t.

“At the end of the day, we ended up carrying the can for that product being replaced in CBD apartments.”

Herd said a company without the scale or financial resilience of Naylor Love would have just folded and left the building owners in a bad situation.

“If the companies who are installing the new products are strong enough to standby if the product fails, that stops all these issues being passed on to a local consumer.”

There are aspects of National’s plan that will help build a more stable construction industry, including speeding up code compliance and consenting processes as well as freeing up immigration settings to resolve workforce shortages.

Herd said this was all good stuff, but neither major party’s commitments had truly addressed the largest issue in the construction sector, the boom-bust cycle

“That’s something the government can help with in respect of when they release work into the market.

“When things are down in the private sector, we really need government to spend public money in on infrastructure and building development to try and keep that balance across the industry that is absolutely vital.”

He said accreditation of construction companies could prevent failures and homeowners and developers being left high and dry

This is being worked on as a part of the Construction Sector Accord being government and industry, with frequent audits to ensure businesses are fit to operate.

Civil support

Civil Contractors NZ chief executive Alan Pollard said while yesterday’s announcement targeted vertical construction, nothing could be built upwards until the civil contractors have done their ground or under-ground works, meaning anything that can be done to improve the consenting process, including for horizontal works, was good for all.

Pollard was also supportive of further investment in apprenticeship training and said he wanted to see trades training re-established in schools.

“Currently a large majority of schools do not produce work-ready candidates with the understanding, attitude, and aptitude for work.”

He was also extremely supportive of the immigration changes.

“The current pathway is not fit for purpose, it is expensive, and it is bureaucratically cumbersome. Many of the visa categories that we rely on have no civil roles included on their approved list.

“It is inconceivable that the immigration pathway is one of the biggest risks to New Zealand’s future infrastructure programme.”

Other elements included addressing phoenix companies, allowing plumbers, gas fitters and drain layers to self-certify works, a review of the building code to consider complexity and builder credentials, transferring raising consents to specialist teams, a review of scaffolding rules and making the promotion of competition a goal of the regulatory system.

Andrew Bevin is an Auckland-based business reporter who covers major industries, markets, regulation, aged care and fisheries.

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