Do-it-yourselfers, beware the costly bureaucracy and the
regulations that await your next projects, writes Sean
I am having a window put in. It required a permit. Under the
2012 regulations, the permit required an architect to draw
the plans, and a registered builder to make a hole in the
wall. The architect, a skilled and very reasonable man,
charged $300, give or take. The Dunedin City Council, for
inspecting the plans, charged $700, more than twice as much
as they cost to create.
Before I could even order the window, I was $1000 down. Most
of it went to the city, and I have a dozen sheets of paper to
show for it. They thoughtfully provided me with a copy of the
drawings I had already bought, each stamped with an approving
seal. I think each stamp was worth around $180.
One of the things I loved about this country, of which I have
always been proud, was the Kiwi
Unlike other places where bureaucracy was more intense, it
was really possible to build your own home, given a little
help from experts. Now that is gone, killed by regulations
driven by an obsession with safety which doesn't actually
make things safe, only more expensive and stifling of what
once was a self-sufficient, creative culture of freedom,
independence and possibilities.
I am not a builder, but have built top storeys, perfectly
legally, on two of the houses in which my family has lived.
The engineer in the planning office was extremely helpful,
giving me information on building methods. I had some help
from builders, electricians, plumbers, and while the family
wished at times that someone would finish the job their
father was taking forever with, the thing is, it was
possible. It was part of the Kiwi way.
These costs and regulations, created in response to a plague
of faulty work performed for the most part, not by home
handymen like me, but by qualified builders, in attempting to
rectify a real problem, are having the result, in my house at
least, of encouraging illegal building. Had I known of the
cost, I confess I would have been sorely tempted to punch a
hole in the wall myself, get the window put in and keep quiet
about it. No-one would have noticed, and few would have cared
that I had made a criminal of myself.
Building regulations are necessary, I recognise that. Used
well, they can maintain the character of a town - something
our local bureaucracy doesn't seem to prioritise - and
provide information and support, as I experienced in the
past. I think, sadly, that we probably will not recapture the
past ideal. Future legislation rarely simplifies things. We
can no longer legally provide a model for future generations
of thinking for oneself, not in the business of shelter,
I am thinking of using the permit for insulation. It has to
have some use. In any case, I would need a permit to burn it.
- Sean Manning lives in Dunedin.