Exploring the roles and responsibilities of designers and government in a reformed building regulatory model | DesignBUILD 2019
Bronwyn Weir, Co-author of the Shergold Weir Report and Kath Walters from Dream Planet discussed the opportunities and challenges ahead for architects, engineers and designers at Day 2 of DesignBUILD 2019.
A report that is focused on improving the effectiveness of compliance and enforcement systems for the building and construction industry across Australia was recently released by Professor Peter Shergold AC and Bronwyn Weir. It will have a big impact on the future directions of the profession of building surveying, and Bronwyn Weir, today at DesignBUILD2019, with Kath Walters from Dream Planet discussed the opportunities and challenges ahead for architects, engineers and designers.
Building Confidence – Improving the effectiveness of compliance and enforcement systems for the building and construction industry across Australia. The authors examined the building regulatory systems across jurisdictions, as well as the broader problems that impact the effective implementation of the National Construction Code (NCC) in order to make recommendations to improve Australian building safety and compliance.
What made this report different though? Weir explained to Walters and the audience that there have been numerous other reports in recent years about the sector, but for the most part they were done on the basis of issues in a particular jurisdiction. The similarities in these reports were striking, but it didn’t lead to uniformity in terms of how each state and territory approached making changes. The ministers wanted a roadmap around what it would mean to resolve the problems they had identified, and that kind of roadmap hasn’t been a goal for those recent reports. This new one provided everyone with a sense of how these issues can be resolved on a national level.
The stakes associated with doing so are evident, especially when looking at the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower and the fire at the Lacrosse apartments in Melbourne. The fire was fueled by flammable cladding, and the limitations of the choices being made in such construction projects have become a top concern for obvious reasons. However, those concerns are now being considered in a whole new light on account of a judgment that saw the builder found liable for $5.7 million in damages over the Lacrosse fire. Both of these events made the ministers realise they needed the insight and feedback that could only come out of a report like the one Shergold and Weir prepared.
It’s a complicated issue, because some architects have argued they shouldn’t be held liable for any shortcomings that happen during construction. While some architects remain involved in the building process, others leave construction details to the builders, and if the builders choose different materials or deviate from the plans that were delivered, then how should liability be handled?
Some of that factors into how different trades are certified and registered. Architects have to be registered in Australia, but the framework around doing so is mostly about title protection. Many architects agree there is a lack of oversight, and it’s something many want to see changed. Is registration part of the answer though?
Many businesses often complain about the red tape associated with registration, but most professionals are fine with it because they want competent people to be doing this work. Strong industries can regulate themselves and there are pros and cons associated with registration by government.
The role of government was also highlighted during the “What will it take to bring government to the table for long-awaited building regulatory reform?” session. Panelists mentioned that the holistic approach to the reforms and recommendations of the report need to be pursued, and that accreditation and responsibility need to be sorted out at a high level. Uniformity of codes and building approach are the goal, but states and territories don’t want to give up their autonomy, which presents a challenge in terms of how this goal can be achieved.
What kinds of new responsibilities are going to come out from the recommendations of the report though? A set approach to registration for three different categories was what Weir highlighted during her session. She made sure to clarify that others can’t be added, but she determined the three identified in the report were essential. Those categories will help with compliance and will help limit or potentially eliminate conflicts of interest that continue to plague the industry.
The question of cost is one that always looms over conversations like this, but as was demonstrated at Grenfell and at Lacrosse, the bottom line costs can’t drive these decisions. Reform around building regulation to improve product safety and accountability in the building sector has to be driven by the recognition that positive changes can be enabled, but they can only come from cooperation and a new understanding of what it means to properly manage risk and responsibility.
There is still time to visit DesignBUILD 2019 and hear from industry experts in the Speaker Series! Open from 10am-4pm Thursday 16 May.