New Zealand's house-building sector needs a "total makeover", says economist Shamubeel Eaqub who says instead of KiwiBuild, he has a three-point plan to fix the sector.

More prefabrication and modularisation, rejecting slower custom-made construction techniques and forming closer ties with global partners including the Chinese are his ideas, he suggests.

Ahead of next Thursday's New Zealand Chinese Building Industry Association conference where he is a keynote speaker, Eaqub has put forward his ideas.

"We need a step-shift in knowledge and know-how. We need to look more at the Asia-Pacific region where prefabrication and modularisation are much more efficient, saving huge time and cost," Eaqub said.


"China is obvious because it is growing so fast and also Singapore because it's a very interventionist government situation but they've managed to get good housing supply and ownership," he said.

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"We also need to get away from everything having to be custom-made: for example, in Europe standard window sizes are the norm, so why are they not in New Zealand?

"And we need Chinese partnership and input with this association's local knowledge, we can provide the capital, knowledge, know-how and industrialisation experience to make New Zealand construction better, and through the cycle. We need more of a global focus because elsewhere, they do house-building faster and better," Eaqub said.

The Auckland-based economist suggested fundamental reforms for a much-needed supply boost.

"Construction productivity growth is very poor and in New Zealand, we think that everything has to be custom-designed and custom-built here, and on-site. None of these three things is true," he says.

"The sector needs desperately to scale up. We need to keep running at current record consents for decades to fix our housing crisis, but the sector is bursting at the seams. We need to be able to run a marathon at this pace and must learn from other countries that build at pace.

Eaqub's three-point suggestion. Photo / file
Eaqub's three-point suggestion. Photo / file

"KiwiBuild is not the answer to our problems. Regulatory change is the real key to unlocking urban planning and land supply to provide more houses, affordably and quickly. Government procurement can help to provide long term certainty in a very small market," he said.


"Our construction system needs a total makeover. This is our opportunity to try something different, as more of the same will not lead to better results. We can't see how to make the shift, as we haven't done it before. But others have. Overseas they have everything NZ needs - the knowledge, know-how, industrialisation and capital – so how do we bring it in?"

Although house-building was at peak levels, the country needed to keep this run-rate going and lift it.

"So we need to change the industry to run at this pace permanently. The average has to be 30,000 new homes every year, medium and high density, prefab and more. Then we have the opportunity to scale and standardise what we do," he said.

Adrian Wilson and Phil Goff of the council in Flat Bush in January. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Adrian Wilson and Phil Goff of the council in Flat Bush in January. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Phil Goff, Auckland mayor, warned builders and tradespeople across Auckland about non-compliance with regulations and standards.

"We're not looking to shame but to change behaviour, to speak softly but carry a big stick. It's all very well for us in the cities to tell farmers 'stop putting sediment into the harbours' but we have got to walk the talk ourselves," Goff said earlier this year on a tour of Hermes Rd, Flat Bush where many sections were in a filthy state.

Frank Xo, association president, said in January he was disappointed in Flat Bush.

"I know there are reputable builders there but many of the Flat Bush builders are equal to cowboys and now we're worried they're moving to South Auckland and Hobsonville. The barriers to getting into the industry are so low and many of them are not professionals. They just don't know about compliance. They think it's okay. They come in here without knowing about health and safety either," Xo said at the time.

NZ International Building Expo and Summit hosted by NZ Chinese Building Industry Association, annual conference August 16, trade/public days August 17 and 18, Vodafone Event Centre, Manukau.