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Police or tour guides?

Police or tour guides? - Local Government Magazine February 2017

Let’s re-think the role of Building Control Authorities.

It’s tough being a Building Control Authority (BCA). The BCA has the responsibility of administering the requirements of the Building Act, Building Regulations and the Building Code, understanding the consequences of failure, the potential impact on human life, current and future homeowners and on the financial position of the council if something goes wrong.
With all that responsibility, who’d work in building control? With so much at stake BCAs have no option but to be the building police, right?
Do BCAs have to act like police?

Michelle Hewitt

Recently I talked with a customer of a BCA and they asked – why can’t the BCA be more like tour guides rather than police? The customer described a discussion they had with a Building Control Officer (BCO) when they had approached the council for advice on a building consent, the result being that they were told to go find the information / solution themselves. But they had no idea where to start.
Another customer talked about being frustrated when they wanted advice on how to comply with particular building requirements, but the council said they couldn’t help because they could not be the designer.
As a customer who may or may not be familiar with the Building Act, what are they supposed to do? Isn’t the council supposed to be customer focused and there to help?
It’s a fine line for BCA staff. They want to ensure quality applications are received and that buildings are built to the consented plans and in compliance with the Building Act. It’s not the role of a BCA to design a solution for a customer. But shouldn’t council want projects to succeed?
Ensuring the success of projects has an economic benefit for individuals and the community. So how do we enable success and also continue to be an effective regulator?
Is a positive approach possible?
This is where the concept of the tour guide comes in. Some BCOs say their role is focused on compliance or enforcement. And because of this it is a negative role. But I challenge that. Why can’t a BCO have a positive approach to compliance and regulation?
By being a good building tour guide you can enable development to succeed while managing your regulatory role.
You can help customers to navigate through various sources of information, regulations and code requirements by asking a series of questions that enable the customer to reach an answer themselves.
It could start with asking the customer about the potential options and whether that particular product or design will work. This is a positive investment of time that builds rapport. The council is seen to be part of the solution – not part of the problem. It’s a winner for the BCO’s reputation as well as council’s.
Working together
Working together is a better approach than just telling the customer they have failed an inspection for whatever reason. Delays impact on the overall success of the project and the livelihoods of all those trades people involved. Have you ever had to wait a week for concrete only to fail the inspection hours before it is due to be poured? Imagine the stress.
I’m not saying a BCO should not fail inspections. But I am saying that you can be part of the success of a project by talking through possible solutions, while still ensuring you are undertaking your statutory responsibilities.
So, the next time you are asked for help or see something that’s not quite right – why not try being a tour guide, positively contribute to the success of a project and leave your police hat behind?

This article was first published in the February 2017 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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