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Craig Johnson Expert View: Why The Government Needs To Do More Work On Building Standards

Posted on May 17, 2018

While most people follow the budget closely to find out how the price of beer will be affected, my main preoccupation involves the government’s plans regarding the construction industry. Don’t get me wrong, the price of beer is important, but I feel like I’ll ultimately continue to be loyal to that particular product regardless. As will the government, it raises a lot of revenue for them.

This year I was pleasantly surprised to see a commitment to funding new exterior design standards for apartments to focus on the use of the highest quality materials and sustainability standards. I imagine that this is in response to the horrific Grenfell Towers fires in London which claimed 71 lives and caused over 70 injuries. I applaud the Victorian government getting on the front foot and ensuring that this never happens in Melbourne. It sounds like building permits will be vetted more intensely and builders who don’t have adequately sustainable materials will be rejected. The cladding used in apartment blocks here has been at the centre of both class actions and media due to its flammable nature so it’s so important that this is a focus for the government.

However, while I think it’s a great initiative, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by its limits. It made me think of the Decent Homes Standard which was brought in by Tony Blair’s Labour Government in 2000. In a nutshell, the Blair government ministry aimed to provide a minimum standard of housing conditions for people housed in the public sector (council housing). This wasn’t just in relation to the construction of new apartment blocks, it ensured that existing housing was renovated to an acceptable standard. The new standard didn’t just refer to safety requirements, they also prioritised occupants comfort and standard of living. This had a few knock-on effects that were beneficial for the community.

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Craig Johnson Expert View: Why The Government Needs To Do More Work On Building Standards

As comfort and thermal energy efficiency were a priority, it was a natural progression to replace all of the windows in older blocks with double glazed uPVC windows. Not only did this ensure extra comfort but also energy saving benefits. Essentially it meant that people in lower income brackets were saving money on utility bills. The government wanted to increase the disposable income of these inhabitants and ensure that their already low cash flow wasn’t wasted on bills.

Due to the high quality off our products, our factory in the UK (Emplas) was chosen to replace windows in a number of council estates. We replaced the windows in every council estate in Bristol and one of our biggest London projects was Tabard Gardens. The success of the Decent Homes Act has been lauded because it’s raised the general living standard and benefitted the environment. Depending on your political inclination, you could say that it’s the only good thing that Tony Blair did during his reign, but again that depends on your political views.

In my view, no one, regardless of social status should have to live in substandard housing. Nor should anyone have to pay over the odds for basic needs like warmth or cooling. Unfortunately, in Australia, soaring energy bills don’t discriminate. It’s not just the well-off that are paying rising costs, it’s lower income homes that just can’t afford to. Hence the record number of home owners having their energy cut off.

So, while it’s encouraging to see the government address at least one of the many housing concerns that are plaguing the industry at the moment, I’d love to see them look at the big picture so we can raise the standard for everyone.