Government has got it back to front on licensing, says developer

6 Feb 2020

Barry Morris

Barry Morris says licensing developers will only hurt the building industry in the ACT. Photo: George Tsotsos.

One of Canberra’s biggest developers has hit out at plans by the ACT Government to license developers as part of its war on shoddy building, particularly in high-rise apartment blocks.

Morris Property Group Director Barry Morris says it’s not developers who need to be licensed but those who are actually responsible for creating a building, from the design consultant and engineer to the sub-contractor.

He says licensing developers and holding company directors personally liable for building defects will only drive builders from the ACT or the property sale market.

“I think the government is going the wrong way in the food chain,”  Mr Morris said. “At the moment the only party in the food chain that’s licensed is the builder.”

Mr Morris said that system wasn’t working and urged the adoption of the Queensland model in which consultants and engineers have to be licensed with the appropriate level of insurances, as do builders and sub-contractors based on the size and scale of work.

He believed that in this environment those truly responsible for a defect, such as an engineer, could be held to account and the public have recourse to rectifying the problem.

He said very few developers were actually builders themselves, and he believed a licensing regime in which company directors would be exposed to litigation for years would be too risky for them to conduct business.

“I can’t see substantial developers being willing to take that risk. Why would you develop in the ACT?” Mr Morris asked.

He had already heard that one of Canberra’s biggest builders was willing to walk away from the ACT.

“Developers will have to decide whether they wish to transact in this environment.”

He suggested some might still build but not sell apartments due to the amount of risk involved dealing with body corporates and the public.

One answer to the problem, given the proliferation of high-rise apartments, would be to extend homeowners warranty insurance to buildings of more than three storeys.

“Do we need that sort of mechanism for high-rise buildings?” Mr Morris said. “It would add another layer of cost that will go on to the cost of properties, which would become a bit less affordable. That’s just the way it’s got to be if we have defects in buildings.”

He believed the government was trying to solve a developer problem that did not really exist in Canberra, saying no developer would tell a builder to cut corners.

”I can’t honestly say that there are builders out there who would build dodgy stuff for the sake of it. Not in the space we play in,” he said.

The government says it will be consulting with industry but Mr Morris has yet to hear from it and fears Building Quality Improvement Minister Gordon Ramsay will railroad its proposed legislation through the parliament.

“The government is not thinking it through,” he said.

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