Up to 40% of Auckland Council building inspections failing; Council's building control manager fears experienced builders are being stretched and leaving workers unsupervised

There are urgent calls for the building industry be renovated, as Auckland Council’s failing up to 40% of its building inspections.

Auckland Council building control manager, Ian McCormick, says the push for Auckland to ramp up its housing supply is putting the construction industry under pressure, and seeing the quality of work take a dangerous dive.

Last month 29% of Council inspections didn’t make the cut, and recently there was a week where the failure rate was just under 40%.

Given the Council does 132,000 inspections a year, that’s nearly 40,000 failures. It also doesn’t take into consideration the properties that may slip through the Council’s cracks.  

McCormick says that while failure rates fluctuate from area-to-area, week-to-week, they’ve been on a downward slide over the last year and a half.

Lack of supervision

The issue is, there are too many new houses to be built in Auckland, and not enough skilled workers.

“To deliver on Auckland’s growth needs we’re actually building a Hamilton every four or five years in Auckland. So all of the buildings, all of those roads, all that infrastructure, (is being built in Auckland every four or five years,” McCormick says.

This year’s National Construction Pipeline Report also says the value of Auckland residential construction is expected to grow by 126% from 2013 to 2018, to $9.6 billion. 

McCormick has narrowed the problem down to experienced builders being too stretched to provide adequate supervision on site.

He’s noticed, “Even the most competent builder, someone who our building inspectors… hardly ever have any issues with… Will suddenly have some really significant failures associated with the building inspection.

“Normally what’s happened is that a really good builder has ended up being stretched. He’s running too many jobs at the same time; he ends up not being able to get one of the sub-trades he normally uses, and ends up having to use someone else who’s not as good (that’s probably the reason they’re more available) – not as experienced – and he fails to recognise he needs to put more supervision on that work to make sure it’s done properly.”

Productivity low and worsening in building sector

He points out all the re-work that’s having to be done as inspections fail, is seeing productivity in the sector plummet.

McCormick says productivity in the sector is the lowest of all the sectors in New Zealand, and has worsened over the last 10 years.

“You think of every other industry; there’s technology that’s come in, there’s new learning, new ways of organising people, collaborating to create products, and it’s more efficient and it’s more productive. Not the case in the construction industry – it’s really quite concerning.”

Building culture to blame – not the developers or govt

McCormick denies developers are exacerbating the problem, pressuring builders to do more – quicker and for less.

He says developers are in a position to help alleviate the housing shortage, so “we absolutely need them”.

“They’re not creating the pressure. The pressure’s actually part of the community and people’s desire to want to live in Auckland.”

He says the industry doesn’t have a culture of quality assurance embedded it in, as others do.

Building inspectors are seen as “checkboard Charlies”, who simply tick boxes rather than require quality on a more holistic level.

“That type of perception is really problematic”, McCormick says.

“Quality should be something that everybody embeds, it should be the way they do things… unfortunately in many parts of the construction industry this is not the case.”

He denies the Building Code isn’t robust enough to ensure work is completed to an adequate standard. He also says the Government isn’t to blame.

“The answer is really for the industry to recognise we need to work better together. We’re doing that a lot better than we were previously.”

He says professional affiliations like Master Builders are doing lots to help their members, however the residential building industry needs to up its game and meet the standard which the commercial construction industry is meeting.

McCormick says there is a good culture within the commercial sector, whereby a robust construction management system sees work completed to a high standard.

Furthermore, he notes the work builders do is becoming increasingly complex and require higher skilled workers.