Consent waiver could lead to shoddy building

KRYSIA KRAWCZYK
Last updated 05:00 17/06/2014

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A move by the Christchurch City Council to waive consents for major building work could lead to a repeat of the costly leaky buildings saga, critics say.

In a bid to speed up the city's rebuild, the council is allowing project managers and builders to apply for exemptions from building consents, council inspection and the need for a final code of compliance certificate.

Home Owners and Buyers Association spokesman Roger Levie said it could become another leaky homes-type situation. Watertight issues in some houses built between 1994 and 2005 are estimated to have cost the country more than $11 billion.

"If anything, we should be tightening and not loosening regulation," he said.

Consent exemptions have been allowed under the Building Act 2004, but for minor building work only. Now, complete replacement of house foundations, structural walls, cladding and roofs can be done without consent or final council sign-off.

The work is not limited to earthquake repairs.

Duncan Webb, a partner at law firm Lane Neave, said it was "extraordinary" that replacing an entire house foundation could be exempt from consent.

"The council has been taken to court for asking for too much information in the consenting process, but could now be back in court for asking for too little," he said.

Council principal building official David Hutt said the council started offering discretionary exemptions for major works last year, and was now promoting them as an option to speed up the city's recovery.

"Most of the cases that receive an exemption are being supervised by an engineer and in a lot of cases they are probably more qualified and able than our own inspectors," he said.

"The risk of it going wrong is no more than if we were involved."

The council's inspection "won't necessarily add any more value", Hutt said.

Webb disagreed, saying it was "absolutely essential" there was a council consenting process and an external check in place.

"The leaky building issue showed that some builders left to their own devices will build buildings that may well not comply with all aspects of the code," he said.

The approach is at odds with other Canterbury councils, and the Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland councils, where the discretionary exemption is rarely used.

Waimakariri District Council building unit manager Warren Taylor said the council exempted two or three jobs a year for small-scale repairs, such as minor cracks, and exempting more substantial work was "not a place that we would go".

Insurance Council of New Zealand insurance manager John Lucas said there were "definitely" potential issues for homeowners as insurance policies did not cover faulty workmanship.

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"We would be concerned if there was no formal check on building work that affected the structural components of the house," he said.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment senior adviser Dennis Monastra said if owners had concerns about what was proposed, they should go through the consent process "to get the protection the law offers".

- The Press

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