Friday, April 24, 2020

The Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH) questions the value of the Western Australia government’s plans to change its building regulations and extend the provisional use of the National Construction Code 2016 until May 2021.

The 2019 version of the National Construction Code (NCC 2019) was generally adopted throughout Australia on May 1, 2019. Amendment 1 of this version is due to be adopted nationally on July 1, 2020. But as the deadline for moving to the amended version of the NCC approaches, and with COVID-19 delaying the completion of some projects, the Western Australia government has announced plans to extend the use of the old code, NCC 2016, until April 30, 2021.

AIRAH says the move will create a divide between Western Australia and the rest of the country – in terms of standards, occupant safety and sustainability in the built environment, and in terms of the skills and knowledge of its workers.

“AIRAH is opposed to this plan,” says AIRAH CEO Tony Gleeson, M.AIRAH.

“The WA state government says this is designed to help Western Australia respond during the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe it will significantly weaken it.”

AIRAH points to research by ASBEC and ClimateWorks in 2018 that showed strong energy standards for new buildings in Western Australia could, between now and 2050, reduce energy costs by up to $4 billion, deliver at least 10 million tonnes of cumulative emissions savings and save households up to $1,000 per year in energy bills.

“Volume One of the NCC – which applies to commercial, industrial and multi-residential buildings – focuses on reducing energy consumption by a potential 30 per cent – a step-change for commercial buildings,” says Gleeson. “But as things stand, Western Australia will not reap these benefits.”

AIRAH says that the plan will also be detrimental to Western Australians working in the building industry, especially those in national roles.

“At a time where the industry nationally is already facing challenges with basic compliance and construction quality issues, encouraging a greater divide across any borders is illogical and somewhat irresponsible,” says Gleeson. “Consistency would encourage the transfer of skills and knowledge, reducing costs and benefiting the community.”

Finally, AIRAH is questioning the need for a blanket extension for a full 12 months, rather than considering projects affected by COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis.

“Everyone understands that COVID-19 has delayed work, and some projects will need leeway,” says Gleeson. “But the Western Australia government is planning to extend the deadline for NCC 2016 not just for construction in progress, but for all building permit applications. And extending the deadline until May 2021 is only going to complicate things further when NCC 2022 appears.

“We call for the government to reconsider its plan,” says Gleeson. “Far from helping Western Australia and its people, it risks leaving them behind.”