Up until this year, the annual updating cycle associated with the National Construction Code (NCC) was such that one edition of the Code would come into force, the industry would spend six months or so bedding down the changes and the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) would be exhibiting the next set of proposed amendments for the following year.

Much of this is changing, however, now that the Code is moving to a three-year updating cycle. That raises questions about how the process will work, important timelines for the NCC 2019 and how the industry can prepare for the new process.

According to Neil Savery, General Manager of the Australian Building Codes Board, differences will be noticeable across a number of areas.

First, there will be a more stable regulatory environment from an NCC point of view. Under the former one-year cycle described above, industry became bogged down in a continual process of having to bed down one cycle of changes and then look over its shoulder for the next cycle of proposed amendments. Under the new process, industry will spend around six months adapting to one cycle of changes and then have a period of two and a half years before the next cycle of amendments comes into force.

Next, the updating process will reflect greater rigour and a more strategic focus. Compared with processes for the NCC 2016 and prior NCC versions, that for NCC 2019 allows more time for those requesting change to prepare their submissions, more time for the ACBC’s technical committees and board to consider these requests and more time for industry and other stakeholders to prepare submissions in response to proposed amendments. Thus at each stage of the process, there will be greater time for thought, analysis and reflection.

Moreover, having previously been bogged down in having to deal with more routine matters, Savery says the Board itself will use the extra time allowed for in the NCC 2019 cycle and beyond to adopt a more strategic approach and to look more closely at how the Code can respond to bigger picture issues such as climate change and building resilience. On this note, he says the Board is encouraging those requesting change to focus upon issues of greater practical impact and importance. Whilst acknowledging that issues which need to be dealt with must not be ignored, he says the Board is encouraging people to focus less on matters which are primarily ‘dotting and i and crossing a t’ and more on issues which have greater practical impact.

Furthermore, with less of its time being absorbed in annual updating processes, Savery says the Board will now invest greater effort in making the Code easier to use. Having made the Code available online, he says there will now be more focus on ensuring those accessing it are presented with a document that is legible, useable, readable and easy to make sense of.

A further issue to note, he said, is that as far as DTS solutions are concerned, referenced standards will be locked in for three years. This means that where any domestic or international standard which is referenced in the NCC 2016 is subsequently updated, it is in fact the version of the standard which was current at the time of the NCC 2016’s inception rather than the updated version which is relevant as far as DTS solutions under the NCC 2016 are concerned. The updated version of the standard will be able to be used when pursuing performance solutions but not DTS solutions. In addition, Standards Australia are undertaking efforts to align the timing of any new editions of the standard with the that of new editions of the Code.

In terms of the actual updating process itself, Savery says this will be no different except for the fact that longer timeframes will be allowed at each stage of the process. As happens now, industry and members of the public will be provided with a window of opportunity in which to submit proposals for change. These will be looked at by the office of the ABCB and then by a technical committee to determine whether or not the proposed amendments are warranted before recommendations with respect to changes which are assessed to have merit are presented to the Board. The Board will then consider the changes and prepare a public comment draft upon which industry and members of the public will have an opportunity to make submissions. These submissions will then be considered by a technical committee who will make further recommendations to the Board. The Board, in turn will make a final decision and release a preview of the new Code before the final Code is adopted.

What is different are the timeframes. Under the 2019 process, those wishing to submit proposals for change have until September 1 this year to do so – meaning that they will have had the best part of one and a half years since the inception of NCC 2016 in May last year in order to prepare their submissions.  The ACBC will then have five months until February 1 next year in order to conduct its processes and prepare a public comment draft. After this time, the industry and other stakeholders will have ten weeks rather than eight previously in which to make submissions in respect of the proposed changes before April 13 next year. The public draft comment period will be purposely held early in the year during a period which is typically less busy from an industry viewpoint, Savery said. The preview of the 2019 Code will be available for download in February 2019 whilst the new Code will be adopted in May of that year.

Throughout the period where proposals for change are able to be submitted, the Board will have working groups who will engage with stakeholders on an informal basis with regard to thinking about the types of changes which they want to propose.

Asked how they can prepare for the new process, Savery said it was important for industry participants to familiarise themselves with critical timetables under the NCC 2019 process and to understand that there are going to be significant opportunities for them to participate in commenting on the draft content for the next edition.

Moreover, he says the Board is now looking to engage with people not only about the content of the Code but also how it can be used and made more accessible. He says the board is encouraging feedback on matters such as areas of the Code which are difficult to understand or any areas where education tools such as demonstration or instructional videos could help.

“Whereas in the past, we would have only had that first part of the conversation which is ‘here’s the new content of the Code – go and go and use it’, we now have the opportunity and are putting resources into discussing with industry and other participants how to interpret and actually use the Code …,” Savery says.

“…We couldn’t do that before because we never had the time to put our heads above the paraffin to have those conversations.”

Australia has a longer timeframe for updating the National Construction Code in 2019.

What this delivers, it seems, will be a more robust process which delivers greater focus upon strategic outcomes.