Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Property Rights, Risk and the Building Act

Christmas is a time for people to catch-up with friends, neighbours and relatives, talk about their year, and air their grievances about the world to a sympathetic audience. Fascinating then (to me anyway), that over this period so many of the conversations revolved around the Building Act, and rapacious local authorities.

Conceived following the "leaky buildings" debacle the Building Act 2004 is essentially a declaration of war on the home handy-person. Part 5 Schedule 1 of this Act essentially allows one to repair existing items, build a mound or platform no higher than 1 metre, erect a tent, and build a retaining wall up to 1.5 metres tall. Other than that you need a building consent.
Obtaining a building consent involves paying councils a percentage of the cost of the work (why?), extensive design drawings, a project information memorandum, site inspections, and adherence to design standard 3604 (which costs $200 plus).

Now one can certainly accept that nobody should be allowed to build dangerous structures. I remember visiting a former girlfriend living in a lower flat, looking up and realising that the extensive deck above our heads had been constructed without recourse to bolts. While a 3-inch nail certainly has its uses the disaster at Cave Creek where 14 students died after an amatuerly constructed viewing platform plummeted 30 metres down a cliff should have demonstrated to anyone that they have their limitations.

But my gripe is that even structures which have very limited capacity for catastrophic failure need an outrageous amount of bureacracy to be built or installed. My neighbour, for instance, wants to replace an aluminium window with a wooden one. He isn't planning to do it himself, he's simply planning to pay a craftsman to do a simple job. But to achieve this you need a PIM, pay a the Council a small fortune and have two inspections. Question: What possible business is this of the District Council? If the window is poorly installed my neighbour can take the craftsperson to the small claims court and have the problem rectified. Since when did the District Council have an ownership stake in private property?

And this is the issue. Increasingly Councils are assuming the responsibility and duties of property owners. In one case they even denied a property owner a consent because they judged that the conservatory he wanted to add to his house was "too small". How is this a judgement local Government is qualified to make. This attitude adds to local Government's liabilities and costs, and results in them charging absurd compliance costs.

In Germany planning law is not simple. However there is one important Constitutional safeguard. The owner of property has the constitutional right to do with their own property what they will. Without a constitution New Zealanders have no such safeguard. The result is law which has left us at the mercy of petty officials and a construction industry now safe to pad costs to the hilt. This is where expert committees need to be balanced with more ordinary members of the public. The process for developing this Act was entirely industry driven. The result was that when it got to Parliament it divided on political lines. This meant that the very sensible words of warning from National and ACT were ignored as political posturing.

Ultimately it can only be hoped that the political process, will in time redress what has been described more than once as "overkill"


Hansard debate

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: