Time to take national action on building standards

 

More than a year since the Grenfell Tower fire in London that claimed 72 lives, the peak body for the architectural profession is calling on Australia’s building ministers to finally implement consistent, nationwide changes to improve safety and better protect people from the threat posed by poor compliance with building regulations.

The Australian Institute of Architects is urging the Building Ministers’ Forum (BMF) to adopt a range of recommendations aimed at improving compliance with the National Construction Code (NCC) when it meets tomorrow.

At their last meeting in April this year, building ministers from the federal, states and territory governments were presented with the findings and recommendations of the Building Confidence report. Commissioned by the BMF, and conducted by Professor Peter Shergold AC and Ms Bronwyn Weir, the independent report identified a range of issues with the implementation of the NCC including quality control and assurance, design, accountability, education and training, and auditing and enforcement practices.

Authors Peter Shergold and Bronwyn Weir made 24 recommendations aimed at improving NCC compliance and enforcement systems and establishing a national best practice model to strengthen its implementation.

Acting National President Richard Kirk said the Institute supports the report’s recommendations and believes they should be adopted by all states and territories to protect the interests of those who own, work, live, or conduct their business in Australian buildings.

‘The Grenfell tragedy demonstrated in the starkest and most distressing way the dire, indeed fatal, consequences of not properly regulating and enforcing compliance with the highest standards of building construction,’ Mr Kirk said.

‘We must learn and apply the lessons from Grenfell here for the safety of all Australians.

‘Like any other industry, building design and construction is constantly evolving and innovating, both in terms of practices but also the materials used. Our regulatory environment and the building practitioners who operate within it must keep pace with these changes.

‘With the emergence of non-traditional procurement methods, industry has lost the necessary clarity of responsibility of decision making around materials and building systems.

 ‘The NCC sets minimum requirements for the design, construction and performance of our buildings and should ensure all those involved in construction and its regulation understand and comply with the minimum requirements for health, safety and amenity in buildings.

‘The Shergold-Weir report identified widespread failures regarding compliance, performance requirements and design. It also showed public trust in the industry, especially relating to health and safety, was lacking.

‘The Institute backs every one of the report’s 24 recommendations and we urge all governments to adopt them without delay.

‘We welcome the separate measures various jurisdictions have already implemented, but this is a problem on a national scale, requiring a consistent, cohesive national response.

‘Architects are the most highly-qualified and comprehensively registered cohort of those involved in building and construction and we fully support this report. Our profession can play a vital role in the delivery of well-designed, safe and compliant buildings and our role should not be overlooked in a bid to cut corners and costs.’

The report notes inconsistencies between in NCC implementation and compliance across the states and territories and calls for an aligned approach across the board.

‘While Australia has a nationally-applicable technical standard for buildings, our federation provides for each state and territory to have its own laws governing the implementation of the NCC,’ the report states.

‘Some jurisdictions already have in place some of the things that we recommend. But all jurisdictions will have work to do to deliver the national best practice model proposed.’

Read the summary of the Shergold-Weir report and the impact of the recommendations on the architecture profession prepared by the Institute’s National Policy Manager Leanne Hardwicke here.