An old adage of one of my lecturers come to mind when thinking of the 2021 Regulations for the NSW Design and Building Practitioners Act 2020.

This is namely that ‘a perfectionist is a bloke that doesn’t finish anything’.

Fundamentally both the Act and its Regulations are good. Off course, the text could always be better. Of course, there will be things ‘missed’. But the Act and its Regulations, like all others will evolve.

Both the Act and the Regulations are a huge improvement of what had gone on before.

So what had gone on before? Well, for a start designers – be they architects, engineers or whatever other expertise they claimed to have had – washed their hands of any responsibility for both their decisions, and the lack thereof.

Let me explain.

Unlike building and construction management (building) degrees, those of both architecture and civil engineering had little if no formal study of the Building Code of Australia (BCA) let alone the National Construction Code (NCC). Yet various design practitioners claimed expertise in each. Further, we had those with solely civil engineering degrees self-proclaiming themselves as structural engineers.

In short, there seemed little truth in advertising.

The Act and its Regulations go a long way, though not completely, in addressing such practices.

They will bring about evolutionary, not revolutionary, change in the education of both these professions.

At the same time those of other occupations seeking licensing status for the first time now know what licensed builders always have: with licensing comes tangible responsibilities – both to clients and the public at large.

The Act and its Regulations have cut through quite a bit of common ‘verbage’ and ‘urban myth’:

There has NEVER been a system for the statutory licensing of engineers in NSW for our building, construction and housing industries. The new Regulations at least introduce a system of registration for those signing off the design for (BCA) Class 2 works. Whilst Engineers Australia can claim to be an ‘instrument of State’ due to its Incorporation by Royal Charter, its historical opposition to licensing (though not in recent years) was due to its reference to its Charter in that, rightfully, they always used to claim a statutory mandate to self-regulate. Well, just as the Australian Institute of Building discovered 50+years ago with regards to its own Royal Charter, the public demands more – so the licensing (of a type) for engineers has now arrived.

The Regulations also bust the myth that somehow civil engineering (the fine art of shifting dirt around, and designing retaining walls, roads, drainage, roads, tunnels and the odd railway and bridge) is the same thing as structural engineering. It is NOT. We need people who can design the complete structural system of the building, not just individual structural elements – and that is where the Structural Engineer comes into his/her own with the Regulations spelling out that an additional skillset is required. To those ends, let I remind you that building (not civil engineering) graduates from university of a certain vintage had compulsory study of: form and falsework design, shoring design, under pinning, reinforced concrete design, prestressed and post tensioned concrete design (of individual elements), concrete mix design, structural steel (again of only individual elements) timber framing (including pitched roof design)… etc  now let me know where structural (let alone civil) engineers studied the building fabric and building services.

Further, the Regulations spell the need for Australian accreditation, based on Australian experience – something long overdue.

The licence for architects. Sorry to disappoint our Architect colleagues, but the existing registration is just another form of licence (space doesn’t permit why you folk are no longer called ‘Chartered’ Architects as you once were) – until 2003 the relevant Act just protected the use of the word ‘Architect’ but since the Architect Act 2003 the use of (Board of Architects) registrants on residential buildings over three storeys in height has been mandated, as has the completion of CPD registrants. This exalted status remains unchanged, but notwithstanding the requirements of the various LEPs, any other building can be designed and documented by any individual.

But what of residential works three storeys and under? Well this can now be undertaken a Registered Building Designer. Now before everyone has conniptions, people should be reminded that anyone could carry out this work already – it’s just now they are required to be registered and held accountable. Further only those registered as an ‘Architect’ can use that title – but that does NOT mean that they had to have any (let alone both) degrees in architecture to be registered (this no doubt will be the subject of another article).

Time and space is a limiting factor for this article – but the Act now requires all the above to declare that their designs and all associated documentation comply with the BCA and any and all applicable planning instruments and all relevant Australian Standards. Whilst the Registered Building Practitioner has to declare that he/she has built in strict accordance with the said compliant documentation.

This in turn will inevitably mean that there will be more work for the ‘Building Surveyor’ (and here I refer to this discipline in its broadest form – not just the licence/registration holder), at the front end of the project than at the end than has hitherto been the case. Perhaps we are getting back to how things were, after all even Christopher Wren was in fact employed as the Surveyor (General)of the Kings Works’– so with any luck the Building Surveying discipline might in time return to an age where its status, skills and integrity are celebrated and uniformly respected.

These reforms have to be viewed as part of a broader whole – redistributing the insurance burden, making available the relevant (to Class2 buildings) Australian Standards at a competitive rates, and the development of standard from specifications, the NSW Residential Apartment Buildings (Compliance and Enforcement Powers) Act 2020 .. .. to name but a few. Nothing is perfect, but what in life is?

By Robert Whittaker AM

Admitted as a Member of the Order of Australia for his ‘…significant contribution to the building and construction industry as a leader and educator’  – promulgated by HE the Governor-General in the Commonwealth Government Gazette, QB 2014.

Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales (Est 1821, Royal Assent 1866, Act of Parliament 1881) – promulgated by HE the Governor of NSW in the NSW Government Gazette, 6 Feb 2018.

Awarded a Doctor of Construction Management Honoris Causa by Central Queensland University (CQUniversity), announced 2020.

A building and construction management graduate of UTS (1988) from where he also acquired post graduate qualifications in education, Robert remains actively Licensed  as a Class A Builder in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT, No.: 2015713) where he also holds a dormant license as a Principal Building Surveyor. He is also an accredited Quantity Surveyor and Building Economist – being also accredited in all these disciplines at Level 1 on the National Building Professionals Register (NBPR).

He served seven years on the Discipline Committee of the New South Wales’ Building Professionals Board – that State’s regulator of Building Surveyors and Certifying Engineers. Robert has also been extensively involved in the formulation of legislation and regulation affecting the construction industry in that State (including the 205 Building Professionals Board Act and most recently both the Strata Defects Inspection regime and the regulations for the Building Designers and Practitioners Act), needless to say he is registered to carry out Strata Defects Inspections in that State and carries out other consulting work. He chaired the National Steering Committee which developed national building surveying qualifications in the TVET sector and has served on various Technical Advisory Groups (for both the CPSISC and Artibus) and has previously served on the National Industry Reference Committee for Building and Construction (for the TVET sector).