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Approval delays expected

WITH less than three weeks to the implementation of the Western Australian Government’s energy efficiency housing rating scheme on July 1 the construction industry is bracing itself for significant delays in building application approvals.

Companies are already experiencing delays, which is symptomatic of a building boom, and further building application delays could have a big impact on builders’ holding costs.

While the home construction industry has done its best to prepare for the introduction of the new energy efficiency ratings, industry pundits expect applications to bottleneck in the coming weeks.

Originally to be introduced in January, the industry bought another six months to prepare for the ratings scheme.

In that time the Australian Institute of Building Surveyors, Master Builders Association and the Australian Building Codes Board formulated standard forms and check sheets to simplify the process and educate builders and local government.

Despite these moves, Master Builders Association director of housing Gavin Forster said there was still a lack of knowledge of the changes and neither builders nor local government were fully prepared.

The current building boom has both builders and local government planning departments dealing with increased workloads and Mr Forster said as a result he was concerned that many had been too busy to realise the full impact of the introduction of the legislation.

“People have to comply and the queue is going to get longer,” he said.

There are two pathways builders can take to get the environmental tick on their building applications. 

One is to take the application first to a Firstrate accredited professional and then to local government for approval. 

Firstrate is a computer modelling system that works out the energy efficiency of different building de-signs. Its main application is for houses with large amounts of glass and large spaces.

The other is to take the application directly to local government.

Currently there are only 36 accredited Firstrate assessors in the State, far too few to keep up with current demand.

Mr Forster said the legislation required an extra step in the planning process and some local governments were not prepared.

Incomplete or incorrect building applications are expected to further slow down the local government approval process.

“Builders are more exposed in a boom time than in down time,” Mr Forster said.

Contract holding costs caused by long construction delays can affect the cash flow of some building companies.

However, Mr Forster said that building material costs were modest, around 3 to 4 per cent per year, so the industry was better placed than in past boom times.

Mr Forster said the MBA expected the new legislation to add around $2,000 to the cost of building an average house.

Australian Institute of Building Surveyors (WA) president Vic Etherington said he expected some delays during the initial introduction of the ratings system but for it to smooth out after that.

Mr Etherington said while the peak industry bodies had been proactive in educating he was concerned that owner-builder applications would cause delays before councils and hold up other builders’ applications.

While the mainstream building industry has been privy to numerous educational activities conducted by peak industry bodies, owner-builders have not been targeted.

“It doesn’t pick up owner-builders – they would have no idea,” Mr Etherington said.

Last year there were around 3,000 owner-builder registrations. In the six months to June this year there have been 1,160 registrations.

Arasi Constructions’ Bas Arasi said he expected there to be teething problems with the implementation of the ratings scheme. He said his company was going to go through the Firstrate assessing system and had employees currently doing the course.

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