‘Ridiculous’ delays cost simple projects

The West Australian 6.7.16

“Ridiculous” planning delays for simple housing projects and non-payment of builders and subcontractors are the two biggest issues facing West Australian builders, according to the Master Builders Association of WA.

MBA housing director Jason Roberts said the 800pound gorilla in the room was inexplicable planning delays for single-storey R-Code compliant housing in some local council jurisdictions. “Building approvals in 10 days or less become almost academic if the same application has to go through a planning process that may take 60, 70 or 80 days,” Mr Roberts said.

And MBA WA director Michael McLean took aim at government inaction on non-payment of subcontractors, which he blamed partly on a misguided expectation that builders should submit below-budget tenders.

There were no more cost “rabbits” to be pulled out of hats in construction and it was unacceptable for government or the private sector to accept below-cost building tenders for big projects, he said.

“It’s a very competitive environment,” Mr McLean said, adding that clients needed to take responsibility for assessing whether a tender was realistically meeting the specifications for supplies, costs and statutory obligations including safety.

“It’s a false economy. Everyone is getting squeezed. A client has a duty of care to ensure a tenderer can meet their obligations and can do a job according to the tender document.”

Mr McLean and Mr Roberts both nominated the extraordinary length of time it took some local councils to approve planning applications for housing as a major bug bear for the industry.

“Time is money,” Mr McLean said. “Everybody is waiting, in some cases for years, for these developments to occur – it’s just ridiculous. In housing, the planning approvals process is the number one priority for us to get right.

“Some builders won’t work in some local authority areas because of the way they process building applications.”

The MBA’s 1800 WA constituents were frustrated by the lack of transparency and accountability, particularly for town planners and in some cases elected councillors, in some local government authorities.

Builders, surveyors and even painters must be registered with the Building Commission (under the Department of Commerce) but there was no such regime of accountability in place for town planners.

“The problems are across the board. The holding costs for clients are ridiculous. And builders also get frustrated because … they think they are going to get approval to build this house but the type of things they are encountering is whether the type of fencing is appropriate, or the colour of the fence, whether the entry door needs to face the street or whether it can be slanted slightly.

“It’s pedantic little things that are being micromanaged by local authorities and people’s freedom of choice within reasonable bounds is being restricted – it’s just crazy.”

However, Mr McLean stressed that while “these extremes” were too frequent, they were not across the board. He cited the City of Wanneroo, awarded the MBA’s Local Government Best Practice Housing Excellence gong in February, as an example of a council managing these issues well – an even greater achievement in a high-growth area.

The other finalists in the award, which recognised staff going out of their way to assist builders and therefore local rate payers with their housing plans, were City of Mandurah, City of Rockingham and City of Swan.