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Focus on all sectors of construction industry

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The T&T Guardian editorial, Sensible response to housing plan, of January 4, 2016 demonstrated a rare insight into the issues of housing and construction worthy of a response since it included a number of telling observations. The article raised three issues that are deserving of further discussion.

Firstly there is the issue of delays in the approval system that has a fundamentally-negative effect on the efficiency of the construction industry. Getting through the labyrinth of bureaucracy to start a construction project is enough to discourage anyone except the most adept developers. 

Town & Country Planning Division can take months and even years to respond to applications for outline planning permission. 

Most professional clients now try to avoid the typical delays by engaging the services of a planning advisory consultant whose sole job is to accelerate the process and/or to provide reasoning to some of the requirements that can often appear as obstacles. 

In contrast the Fire Services provides an efficient and professional service for applicants that other agencies would do well to emulate. Investors are likely to be shy about getting involved in land or building development unless the system is efficient and free of corruption. 

We will all benefit when the current approval system needs are completely re-engineered.

Secondly as the article states: “If the People’s National Movement Government is serious about driving real stimulus into the economy through construction, it cannot only focus on contractors.” 

The focus on contractors over the last five years has left most of the other sectors of the industry in decay. This needs to be rectified if the industry is to be fixed.

Design-build, at least the version used here in T&T, puts the driving force in the hands of contractors but this has had a serious negative affect on buildings and professional standards. 

Design-build has almost crippled the professions of architecture, quantity surveying and also many professional suppliers and specialists that developed expertise over the years but who, under design-build system, have fallen victim to the doctrine of the lowest price resulting in the lowest standard. 

Design-build has also contributed to a greater perception of corruption. The use of Design-Build, at least the way it is practised here, must be fundamentally rethought or even eradicated completely.

Thirdly, the whole approach to public/private housing needs to be rethought from basics. 

Housing can be the driving force for a continuous and stable construction sector that can provide real value for society if it is done well. 

As currently practised here, housing is often treated as a political tool having little to do with providing shelter and community facilities for its citizens. 

In recent years the Housing and Development Corporation even provided medium income housing in competition with private developers using state lands flouting the rubric of subsidiarity. 

In responding, I cannot avoid making the point that most housing in this country is designed by contractors, engineers or technicians who are untrained and unqualified and it is hardly surprising that the solutions are so poor. 

This really needs to change because we are creating a very ugly country to leave for future generations.

Brian Lewis


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