Proposed law would speed up building consents for 'prefab' factory-made houses

A proposed law aims to speed up the number of houses being built by removing the need for two separate consents for "prefabricated" factory-made houses.

Building and Construction Minister Jenny Salesa announced on Friday she plans to introduce legislation in early 2020 that would cut through some of the red tape in the Building Act. 

The changes she's proposing relate to "prefab" buildings, those which are made away from the final building site at a factory and then transported to a desired location. 

Salesa is proposing slashing the number of building inspections for factory-produced buildings in half, by requiring building consent only for the installation of a prefabricated home. 

"In some countries, nearly 80 percent of newly built homes are prefabricated offsite, in New Zealand it's about 10 percent."

A new certification process would mean manufacturers don't need to get a building consent for their design or factory work, removing the need for two separate consents. 

The Government says the current building consent processes are best suited to traditional construction methods and can present "barriers for more innovative ways of building". 

"Faster and cheaper construction through greater use of prefabrication and offsite construction will also bring more affordable homes to the market."

There are some concerns around the quality of prefab homes. 

Get It Up Scaffolding operations manager Joshua Lowe told Newshub he has worked with prefab homes in the past and found they can be "good if organised correctly". 

But he said they can be limited in terms of quality and size, in that only smaller properties can be produced inside a warehouse. 

The Government is also proposing that manufacturers and suppliers be required to make a minimum level of information publicly available about the building products they sell. 

They would be required to "provide evidence for claims they make about their products' performance", with new rules that would "help designers and builders choose the right products". 

Roles and responsibilities for manufacturers, suppliers and builders would also be made clearer, so the right person can be held to account if things go wrong.

Salesa predicts making product information more available will improve the quality of building work, and reduce the number inspection failures, saving up to $1.5 million a year. 

She said councils have told the Government it will help them better assess compliance with the Building Code. 

She said delays in consenting "cost a building owner around $1000 for each week of delays". 

The other proposed changes

Penalties for offences against the Building Act would also be increased under the proposed law, with higher penalties for companies than individuals. 

The timeframe for filing charges would be extended, from six to 12 months.

The building levy would also be reduced from $2.01 to $1.75 (including GST) per $1000 of consented building work above a threshold of $20,444 (including GST)

This is predicted to lower building consent costs by around $80 for the average new build, and by $5200 for a $20 million commercial project.

The proposed changes to the Building Act will be the first of two phases. 

National's building and construction spokesperson Andrew Bayly said the proposals are "good steps that should be welcomed". 

But he said the reality is that most homes are built through a traditional method, which means getting consent from a council, "and we desperately need to streamline that process". 

"It's one of the biggest issues facing the construction industry at the moment."

Failed housing promises have been a thorn in the Government's side. 

Its flagship KiwiBuild programme was criticised after its promise of 1000 homes in the first year fell way off the mark, with just 258 houses built as of last month.  

The Government has since ventured into shared ownership schemes to help first home buyers, and is working with emergency housing groups to provide more places for those in hardship.