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At the end of the day, it is not politicians or officials in Wellington who know the industry best, it is those who are immersed in it every day

We need to address the issues restricting productivity in the industry – By Tim van de Molen

With the change of leadership in the National Party, the Opposition has a new spokesperson for building and construction – and he’s keen to hear from the industry. NZCN asked Tim van de Molen what his priorities will be as we build up to the general election in September.

This year has become one for the history books, and we’re only halfway through. Covid-19 created perhaps the biggest upset this world has seen in generations; the job losses, border closures and huge health ramifications have made day-to-day life look completely different from what we are used to.

The building and construction industry, like many others, was shut down during Alert Level 4 which has resulted in significant project delays, additional costs, unexpected pressure and ongoing uncertainty. It would have made sense to allow the sector to continue working through lockdown, as social distancing could have been managed with relative ease at most worksites, but unfortunately the Government didn’t share this view.

Talking politics, the National Party recently had a leadership change, with Todd Muller now leading the charge as we look towards the election on 19 September. Following this change, I am delighted to have been appointed the new National Party spokesperson for building and construction.

As such, I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself to you all. I became a Member of Parliament in 2017, as the MP for Waikato. Prior to politics, I spent time in the corporate world, but also had business interests in the agriculture, retail, service and online spaces. This included a few years running my own small business doing fencing and building work on farms.

This gives me some insight into the challenges presented in the industry (though I won’t profess to be an expert). My priority over the next few months is to engage with key stakeholders to understand a range of perspectives on the opportunities for improvement in the building and construction sector, and to test some of our party views. Please feel free to reach out if you’d like to connect on this.

Contributing to the economic recovery

As the country is now recovering from the health impact of Covid-19, our industry has a major role to play in contributing to the economic recovery. To maximise this potential, it is vital that we place greater urgency on rectifying some of the ongoing systemic issues that are restricting productivity in the industry.

The consenting process ranks at the top of this list from both my own experience and the consistent feedback I’ve already received from many in the industry. It is encouraging to see the Government will remove the requirement for consents for small building projects, thus freeing up some consenting capacity, though this change presents some risk around ensuring building standards are maintained. The minister has confirmed that this change will be in place by the end of August.

A broader review of the consenting process is essential and would be a key priority for me should I be minister of building and construction post-election. It is taking far too long to get consents and inspections, which is negatively impacting the sector and their customers.

The workforce is another area needing a strong focus. It’s pretty obvious that having more qualified and enthusiastic people engaged in the industry will enable more projects to be delivered in a shorter timeframe. Free apprenticeships have been announced to support our recovery through job creation, and I commend the Government for this, though am cautious as this may appear a temporary lifeline for people who do wish to be a part of the industry long term.

Current border controls impact the ability to utilise offshore expertise, which may compound issues, depending on how long these restrictions remain.

I’m a big fan of technology and believe we need to embrace the potential it offers to improve productivity. The Artisan app for remote inspections is an example of this: it’s an innovative digital solution that streamlines the residential building inspection process.

Having bespoke consenting systems across different regions is inefficient and needs reviewing. Updating the Building Code to incorporate a variety of building forms – modular, multi-storey, apartment, terraced housing – is necessary to evolve with the relevant processes of the day. Product certifications sit alongside this too.

Driving the improvements we need

I’d like to finish by congratulating the industry on working alongside the Government to develop the Construction Sector Accord and the associated Transformation Plan. At the end of the day, it is not politicians or officials in Wellington who know the industry best, it is those who are immersed in it every day.

Your input is vital to driving the improvements we need. Make the most of these next few months of political campaigning to ensure your voice is heard – I will certainly be listening! I’d love to hear your feedback on my comments, or any suggestions you may like to share. Feel free to email me.

Tim van de Molen is the MP for Waikato and the new National Party spokesperson for building and construction; he can be contacted at Tim.vandeMolenMP@parliament.govt.nz


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