New rules for design, delivery and certification of multi-residential and mixed-use buildings come into effect in NSW from July 1, 2021. Here are some of the key aspects head contractors and project managers need to understand.
The NSW Government Design and Building Practitioners Act 2020 and associated regulations will significantly change the state’s construction industry. The legislation affects several different issues: requirements for working as a registered building practitioner, the design development process, and the reporting required to assure compliance.
The goal of the changes is to lift industry capability and restore confidence in the state’s construction sector. It will initially focus on Class 2 buildings (multi-residential and mixed-use projects), addressing the ongoing issue with serious building defects. The reforms also form part of the state government’s response to the Shergold Weir Building Confidence report and the Minister’s Building Strong Foundations paper.
NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler says the construction industry needs to “pay attention” to the reforms.
Design Must be Detailed Before any Works Begin
Works will not be given the green light to commence on site without the lodging of Declared Designs through the NSW Planning Portal. These are to be lodged by the Registered Design Practitioner, that is an appropriately qualified architect or professional engineer.
Declared Designs will need to be developed to an Issue for Construction stage, which adds more detail than a traditional Construction Certificate. The use of Construction Certificates will continue to be relevant in setting up the proposed staging of developments where staged occupancy is envisaged.
Declared designs will need to face into and address staging Occupation Certificate requirements. They need to include the elements associated with the highest risk in terms of defects or failure to achieve compliance —structure, building envelope, fire protection, waterproofing and key services, such as mechanical, electrical, and plumbing.
Importantly, contractors will need to have a Construction Certificate and declared designs uploaded to the e-planning portal at least one day before construction commences on site. This will be a major change for those contractors who have previously relied on key trade contractors to complete design for a works package, such as post-tensioning or waterproofing, after early works on site have commenced.
“People can’t just make it up as they go along,” Chandler says.
The Issued for Construction set of designs must be strictly adhered to once work begins.
“If we find people are not completing work as specified in the final set of designs, we have the option to stop that work,” Chandler says.
How to Manage Variations
While having a more detailed design before works commence should reduce variations, these may still be required. The new process for Variations distinguishes between those that impact one of the identified critical elements—a change to the fire engineering or façade—and less significant variations like altering kitchen cabinets.
Variations relating to structural, fire, building enclosure, electrical, plumbing, mechanical and other designated building elements or to an approved Performance Solution design must be designed or overseen by an authorised Design Practitioner and formally Declared.
The Declared Designs must then be lodged within the ePlanning portal within one day of the variation. The Design Compliance Declaration Form must accompany it. This requirement may mean a halt to works so the varied design can be prepared and submitted.
For other non-critical variations, they will not need to be signed off on by a Design Practitioner. However, they will still have to be recorded in a variation statement and lodged before applying for the Occupation Certificate at project completion.
Certifiers will need to pay close attention to changed designs when the alternations affected the basis of their Construction Certificates. Importantly, the declared designs must reflect the approved Development Consent. The conditions of the Development Consent will need to be complied with before an Occupation Certificate may be issued. This should include making good to any damage to adjoining properties where this is a condition.
Get up to Speed on Standards
There will also be an increased focus on the applicable Australian Standards.
“There are around 30 Australian Standards that are relevant to residential construction,” Chandler says.
Builders cannot assume the subcontractors are familiar with the relevant Standards for their work, nor can they rely on the building inspector or certifier for filling any knowledge gaps.
“If we attend a site and a subcontractor does not know the specific standards that apply to their work, they will be issued with a Capability Improvement Card.”
Designers and constructors who are using Professional Indemnity insurance should also take note. Most policies have exclusions where these standards are prescribed. Chandler says that he regularly sees instances where developers and their representatives have overlooked these conditions.
Builder Registration Requirements
Another change the reforms introduce is the specific occupational registration requirements a Builder must have in order to be qualified to make the required Declarations. A Registered Building Practitioner must meet requirements around experience and knowledge in addition to holding an endorsed contractor licence authorising the holder to do general building work under the Home Building Act 1989.
They need to be able to prove knowledge and understanding of regulations, including the Building Code of Australia (Volumes 1 and 2) provisions relevant to the class, Design and Building Practitioners Act 2020, Design and Building Practitioners Regulation 2021, and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and regulations relevant to the class.
In addition, before registering, a building practitioner must complete pre-registration learning requirements, undergo a National Police Check, and hold appropriate insurances.
The required pre-registration professional education includes a Design and Building Practitioners Act 2020 learning module and a Value of Australian Standards learning module. Both are available on the Construct NSW Digital Learning Platform.
In addition, registered building practitioners will need to undertake at least three hours of mandatory Continuing Professional Development (CPD) each year to maintain their registration. The approved courses are available from the Construct NSW Digital Learning Platform or the new online NCC CPD courses developed by the Australian Building Codes Board.
The Time Invested Will Pay Dividends on Site
The reforms will be something of a shakeup for practitioners who have not been following best practices to date, according to Angus Abadee, Director, Building and Construction Policy, Better Regulation Division of the NSW Government Department of Customer Service.
While they may require many subcontractors and builders to change their practices, Abadee notes there are some clear benefits to doing so.
Besides the increased confidence in the quality of builds, the reforms will address the cause and cost of defects. Defects or non-compliant work identified during a build have long been a major cause of the high percentage of project time and costs resulting from rework.
“These reforms will reduce the amount of rectification work for defects,” Abadee explains.
That means the increased time required to get all the designs right at the start will be balanced by saving on downtime due to rectification during the build.