Please sir, may I cut a hole in a wall?

Do-it-yourselfers, beware the costly bureaucracy and the regulations that await your next projects, writes Sean Manning.

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 do-it-yourself-with-a-bit-of-No-8-wire thing.

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, anyway.

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.


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