Govt building watchdog outlines reform agenda

The NSW government will introduce an Australia-first ratings system designed to weed out dodgy developers and prevent a repeat of the Opal and Mascot Towers fiasco.

David Chandler

The ratings system is part of a package of reforms released by the recently appointed construction watchdog which will also give him the power to deny occupation certificates for substandard buildings.

Building Commissioner David Chandler, who was named last August to shake up the sector after residents were repeatedly forced to flee cracking high rise apartments, says the reforms should put risky operators on notice.

“This is a new game,” he told Macquarie Radio. “We’re going to deal with this up front.”

Mr Chandler says he will use  his powers to block occupancy certificates if buildings aren’t up to scratch.

“I will be deploying a very focused risk rating tool to have a look at those people who have previously produced some questionable occupancy certificates in the past,” he said.

The new laws will also require builders to produce a digitised set of drawings at the conclusion of every project before they can get issue a certificate.

Since last December, buyers aren’t be required to settle on a purchase until they have an occupancy certificate.

Construction ‘ecosystems’ subject to ratings scorecard

The ratings system will for the first time pull together existing public and private data to identify not just individual players but “risky ecoystems” including builders, engineers, designers and certifiers, Mr Chandler says.

He says once the legislation is through additional staff will be deployed to begin audits and vet as-built drawings, which will also be available to strata committees.

Minister for Better Regulation Kevin Anderson hailed the reforms as a game changer for the government and the building industry.

“Simply put, customers need better built buildings, and our reforms will deliver that. Anyone who doesn’t want to get on board with that concept will get left behind,” he said.

The NSW government’s pillars for reform of the building industry.

Cracks and bangs heard in tower

Failures in the building and construction industry first came under the spotlight when residents were evacuated from the Opal Tower, a high rise residential building in Sydney Olympic Park, on Christmas Eve 2018 after hearing loud bangs and cracking noises.

A government investigation subsequently found damage to the towers had been caused by poor quality construction materials, poor quality workmanship and errors during construction and structural design flaws.

In October 2019, residents were evacuated from another Sydney apartment block when cracks were found in Sydney’s Mascot Towers.

The Opal Tower report recommended the creation of a registry of engineers, independent third party certification of building designs and the establishment of building structure review board.

Reforms ‘too soft’

Greens MP David Shoebridge said rather than giving dodgy developers poor ratings the government should be enforcing strict standards and driving rogue operators out of the industry.

“Governments are meant to set and enforce standards and ensure homes are safe to live in, not produce a star rating system that let’s dodgy developers stay in business,” he said.

“Unsafe buildings should be outlawed not given a bad review by the Building Commissioner.

The government’s Design and Building Practitioners Bill, which will enable the reforms, will be debated in parliament next month.

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