In a move criticised by industry bodies, the Western Australia government has changed its building regulations and extended the provisional use of the National Construction Code (NCC) 2016 until May 2021.
AIRAH (the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating) is one of the bodies that has questioned the strategy behind the decision. It says the move could 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 questions the value of 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 could weaken it.”
Research by ASBEC and ClimateWorks in 2018 shows 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.”
The plan, AIRAH says, might also be detrimental to Western Australians working in the building industry, especially those in national roles.
Gleeson says at a time where the industry nationally is already facing challenges with basic compliance and construction quality issues, facilitating a greater divide across any borders doesn’t add up.
“National consistency would encourage the transfer of skills and knowledge,” Gleeson says, “reducing costs and benefiting the community.”
AIRAH also questions 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.
“Extending the deadline until May 2021 is only going to complicate things further when NCC 2022 appears,” Gleeson says. “We call for the government to reconsider its plan, or else risk being left behind.”
ASBEC has also criticised the extension of NCC 2016.
“This is a disappointing outcome,” says ASBEC President, Professor Ken Maher AO. “The changes in the 2019 Code were developed through extensive engagement with industry and using evidence-based research. COVID-19 restrictions have impacted on construction productivity and appropriate concessions can be made to accommodate last-minute delays.
“Yet, without broader consultation, the WA Government has deferred the implementation of the changes by an entire year, which means delaying the economic benefit to energy consumers and businesses. Such a decision makes absolutely no sense in the current environment, where every economic lever is critical.”
In confirming the plan, the Western Australia government noted that “while the regulations allow the use of NCC 2016 for a building permit application submitted on or before April 30, 2021, it is recommended to use the most current edition of the NCC as soon as practicable.”