Acting Executive Director
Building Codes Queensland
RE: National Construction Code Definitions
Our letter of 12 June 2013
Your response of 18 July 2013 DEPC 13/827
Your referenced response to our concerns relating to the definition of class 1b buildings as introduced in the National Construction Code amendments 2011 is greatly appreciated. We thank you for your advice as to possible future action in this matter. Unfortunately, this Association has become totally disillusioned with the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) and their advisory committee the Building Codes Committee (BCC) after some thirteen (13) years of trying to have the correct definition of “dwelling” included in the dictionary to the National Construction Code.
On 31 July 2008 the (then) Queensland Department of Infrastructure and Planning published Newsflash 327 being draft guidelines for the meaning of class 2 building classification under the Building Code Australia (BCA). This was followed on 22 May 2009 by Newsflash 367 providing a definition of the class 2 building classification under the BCA. In both Newsflash releases the Government clearly indicated that it understood the intent of the BCA definition and that buildings in Queensland were being misused. This was expressed:
“The problem identified is that class 2 buildings are being approved or used by the public as holiday or business apartments, serviced apartments and similar short-term or transient accommodation. Such public uses are generally considered as being consistent with the class 3 building classification.
There are a number of concessions afforded to class 2 buildings, including access for people with a disability, fire safety and water and energy efficiency. The policy intent behind these concessions relates to the private use of dwellings and the fact that occupants of class 2 buildings, being long-term residents, will generally be private occupants who are aware of the building’s layout and who are likely to pay for energy and water usage.”
As you are undoubtedly aware the project that produced these Newsflashes was discontinued by the Queensland Government. The distinction between class 2 and class 3 building use has been corrupted for monetary gain by individuals and corporations. The most recent and disturbing trend has been the conversion of Brisbane class 2 high rise buildings from long-term permanent accommodation to short-term transient accommodation. As a consequence of failing to implement the proposals in Newsflash 327 and 367 the Government has acquiesced to corporate greed rather than protecting the rights and lives of class 2 unit owners and occupants. This trend introduces very serious safety concerns in relation to fire detection and building evacuation. Another Childers and Sandgate in the making!
In the past, class 2 buildings made no provision for persons with a disability, and therefore, when used as public access buildings, are in conflict with the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). New class 2 buildings are now required to comply with the amended DDA and provide for persons with a disability. But old buildings do not have to be retrospectively upgraded. The BCA originally defined class 2 buildings as “multiple residential, self-contained dwellings where occupants reside.”
In 2006 under pressure from the Queensland Ombudsman and the Building Codes Queensland (BCQ) the ABCB included on the BCC work schedule the requirement to clarify the definition and use of class 2 buildings. After 4 years of deliberation the BCC declared that they could not reach agreement on the definition of the use of class 2 buildings. The BCC is an industry representative group with no end user (unit owner) representation. Thus the status quo was maintained to the benefit of the developer and tourism industry. This has been described as government corruption by inaction.
Following this failure of the BCC to achieve a satisfactory resolution, the Australian Government Productivity Commission tasked the ABCB with reviewing the definitions and use of class 2 and class 3 buildings. The ABCB issued a paper for public comment with submissions closing on 19 August 2011 and twelve months later issued a non-binding clarification paper on the understanding of class 2 and class 3 definitions. This paper basically supported the above recited understanding of the correct intended use of class 2 buildings.
On 19 December 2012 the ABCB circulated a letter effectively putting the clarification exercise on hold for two years. The BCC included clarification of class 2 and class 3 definitions on their work schedule from 2006 to 2010 without achieving an acceptable definition. Thus, this task has now been on the ABCB agenda for six years. The ABCB appears to be either incapable of or unwilling to produce a definition of class 2/3 buildings. Considering the six years already dedicated to this simple task, another two years of deliberation appears most unlikely to achieve a satisfactory resolution of the problem. The delay will simply allow developers to continue to build sub-standard accommodation – primarily for the tourist industry – but owned by the mum and dad investors of Australia.
Unit Owners Association of Queensland Inc.
29 July 2013