4 Apr 2024

Watch: PM Christopher Luxon announces building products shake-up

12:41 pm on 4 April 2024

The government has announced a plan to make it easier and cheaper for builders to use overseas building products by loosening rules.

Instead, builders could rely on building standards from trusted overseas jurisdictions, Building and Construction Minister Chris Penk announced on Thursday.

He said it was currently about "50 percent more expensive to build a stand-alone house here than in Australia".

The changes announced include:

  • Recognising building product standards from trusted overseas jurisdictions, removing the need for designers or builders to verify standards.
  • Requiring building consent authorities to accept the use of products that comply with specific overseas standards that are equivalent to or higher than those in New Zealand.
  • Approving the use of building products certified through reputable certification schemes overseas. For example, the approval of one Australian scheme, WaterMark, could immediately provide Kiwis with access to 200,000 products.

Penk said the government hoped to pass legislation to enable this structure by the end of 2024.

While looking at products in Australia was a start, Penk said the government would also look at products from countries that had a good engineering reputation.

"The building consent authorities will have to approve the building project overall. For example, not only that the product is robust and of high quality, but also that it's going to be used in a way that's appropriate."

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon pointed to North America, saying "great houses are being built in other countries around the world that have equal if not better standards than New Zealand".

Chris Penk

Building and Construction Minister Chris Penk (front) and Prime Minister Christopher Luxon. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

New Zealand should not be afraid of importing those international products, he said. He suggested New Zealand could also shift away from having councils act as building consent authorities, saying overseas jurisdictions had far fewer - sometimes just one - for the entire country.

Penk said the cost of building a house in New Zealand had gone up 41 percent since 2019.

"This is a major shakeup that will drive down the cost of building without compromising on quality, to make it easier and more affordable for people to build or renovate a home.

"It will also help improve the country's resilience to supply chain disruptions and reduce barriers for Kiwi businesses trying to find alternative approval pathways in New Zealand and export their product overseas," Penk said.

Luxon and Penk had been visiting the EasyBuild Homes factory ahead of their announcement, a New Zealand-owned company making New Zealand-designed housing products.

EasyBuild co-founder Michael Fox told RNZ the system was like the "Ikea of the building industry", putting the materials needed to construct a home - frame, wall panels, windows and all - flat-packed into a container crate, so it could be quickly constructed by a pair of semi-skilled labourers.

"Only thing you don't get is your floor coverings, your electrical wiring ... and your plumbing which goes behind the wall," Fox said. "We're like the Toyota Corolla of the housing industry, so we're producing lots of houses that are similar but they can be customised to actually make them a little bit unique.

"What New Zealand needs to understand ... is that we need a two-tier building industry. One where you can buy houses at a price point that are efficient, economical and can produce quickly - and then if you want your own bespoke house then you can have one, but then you pay a premium for that."

The changes from the government were a "really good first step" for making it easier to build homes, he said.

"Coupled with, I suppose, freeing up the supply chain so that when these new products can come in they are actually freely stocked within the existing supply chains.

"If they close ranks and the merchants don't, say, support products coming in from overseas, then we won't get much change - but this first step is a very good thing the government has done."

He said the change was an important piece to the puzzle for boosting productivity.

Luxon this week laid out a new "action plan" that includes 36 goals to be achieved by 30 June 2024.

It included releasing a draft plan to ease restrictions on building materials from overseas for public consultation.

In March, the government asked councils to publish their building consent data.

Applications for building consents and code compliance certificates must be completed within 20 days, but Penk had said the sector was telling him that was often not the case.

He had signalled Thursday's move in February, saying it would help avoid disruption to supply of specific products, such as the Gib shortage which came to a head in 2022.