Changes to NSW building regulations promise a better industry for all

The engineering sector, has given its full support to New South Wales building reforms. New registration for engineers came into effect on 1 July 2021. Read more in this article written by Chris Sheedy.

In her position as Executive Officer of the Owners Corporation Network, Karen Stiles has seen the personal torment that has been caused by building issues in New South Wales.

“We are talking about a problem that affects people’s health – their physical and mental wellbeing. There are serious human consequences. For that reason alone, the new powers for the Building Commissioner should be a game-changer.”

“It’s time,” Stiles said. “These problems are not new and nor are they unique. And they are not confined to Sydney’s Opal Tower and Mascot Towers.”

The Owners Corporation Network was founded long ago in 2002, she said, on the premise of major building defects. The issue became so serious and all-encompassing that it required a multi-disciplinary approach to figure out a solution.

A six-pillar solution

That solution, driven by New South Wales Building Commissioner David Chandler, is indeed wide-ranging and far-reaching. It involves six pillars and countless experts from numerous industries and sectors.

In each of the pillars are engineers whose knowledge and work is central to the improvement of building quality, not only of apartment buildings, but also schools and hospitals.

At the same time, the engineering sector itself is changing, with compulsory registration introduced on July 1 2021 for engineers in the building sector in NSW, as well as major changes in process and responsibility.

An enormous posse of industry and sector specialists, thought leaders, peak bodies –  including the Owners Corporation Network – membership bodies and organisations gathered to help the Office of the NSW Building Commissioner chase the cowboys out of town.

The level of collaboration speaks volumes about the breadth of support for building sector reforms.

Representing Engineers Australia on the Pillar 1 working group is Peter Johnson FIEAust CPEng, an ARUP Fellow.

Over the past three years, Johnson has been instrumental in driving change in regulations and competency frameworks around fire safety engineering in buildings. He’s now turning that experience and focus more broadly to the regulatory frameworks around building.

“When we looked at all of the regulation controls on fire safety engineering across Australia, in the building regulations we found they were all over the place. They were completely inconsistent across states. What we argued early on was there needs to be national consistency,” he said.

“The second thing we found was a strong need to lift levels of competency.”

Alexandra Sparvell, General Manager of Engineering Education Australia and a member of the senior management team responsible for the education business at Engineers Australia, is a representative on the Pillar 3 working group, which covers building skills and capabilities.

“What engineers will see is a central place where they can access education to lift their skills and capabilities. It will be provided via the Office of the Building Commissioner and accessible from anywhere.

Matthew Press, Director, Office of the Building Commissioner, says it’s important to realise the six pillars are very much intertwined.

“They are all informing each other,” Press said.

Engineers Australia CEO, Dr Bronwyn Evans.

“Every two months for each of these pillars we’re gathering a group of representatives from across industry — engineers, certifiers, designers, even students or young graduates who just finished university or TAFE — and we’re telling them where we’re up to.”

Engineers Australia CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans HonFIEAust CPEng said building sector reform has been top-of-mind since the Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017.

“Since then, Engineers Australia has been heavily involved in the long series of parliamentary and governmental inquiries at national and state levels to discover what can be done to prevent incidents of similar scale occurring here,” she said.

“NSW is at the next stage, actualisation of reform recommendations, which means the community is one step closer to safer cities.”

What are the six reform pillars?

These are the six reform pillars, developed and driven by the New South Wales Building Commissioner.

Pillar 1:

  • Building a better regulatory framework
  • Transforming the focus of the regulator to ensure NSW has a strong, customer-focused regulatory framework

Pillar 2:

  • Building rating systems
  • Move away from one- size-fits-all participant recognition and better identify risky players

Pillar 3:

  • Building skills and capabilities
  • Sharing minimum learning content and open source resources for all institutions

Pillar 4:

  • Building better procurement methods
  • Viable risk allocation and performance accountability

Pillar 5:

  • Building a digital future
  • Sharing industry-wide platforms that build confidence

Pillar 6:

  • Building the reputation for quality research
  • Baseline and measurement against our ability to improve confidence in the industry

To find out more about getting assessed for mandatory registration in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, visit

A previous version of this article first appeared in create digital.

Related stories:

Interesting? Share this article