NSW Government Extends Covid Construction Hours


The NSW government has made a last-minute decision to back-track on plans to end temporary extensions to construction site hours, moving the end date back by four weeks.

On Wednesday, state planning minister Rob Stokes revoked the Environmental Planning and Assessment (Covid-19 Development—Construction Work Days) Order 2020, originally initiated at the start of the pandemic as lockdowns and other restrictions came in.

Stokes said the year-long order, allowing construction sites and workers to operate on weekends and public holidays to minimise the potential for lost productivity, was now no longer needed and would be halted in two weeks time.

The retraction was met with widespread backlash from industry experts and peak bodies.

“Following industry feedback, I have agreed to extend the revocation of the temporary order for construction hours from two weeks, to a month,” Forrest said.

“While there has been significant community concern about the impacts of the temporary order, I also understand the effect it has on the construction industry and agree with the suggestion for the revocation to begin in a month.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 was amended to enable Stokes to issue orders that overrode normal planning controls.

During the pandemic, construction was deemed an “essential activity”.
▲ Throughout the pandemic, construction was deemed an “essential activity”.

Industry experts questioned the retraction as the scramble to start residential projects funded by the federal government’s HomeBuilder stimulus payments pushed construction activity in March to its highest level.

AI Group and the HIA's recent performance of construction index recorded an increase of 4.4 points to 61.8—the highest result for the monthly report, begun in 2005, that expresses the survey responses of building industry figures as an index value.

A reading above 50 indicates growth and, the higher above 50, the faster the pace of growth.

Urban Taskforce chief executive Tom Forrest said the industry had been let down by the state’s department of planning.

He said it would lead to a slowing in the delivery of new homes and potentially increase upward pressure on housing prices.

“The department has had 12 months to develop a policy to allow for an expansion of construction hours where there is no impact, or very little impact, on residents,” Forrest said.

“CBD high-rise construction; work in commercial, retail and industrial zones; greenfield building development locations on the outskirts of Sydney—there are a number of options between ‘on and off’.

“This change will wind back this important pro-jobs, pro-economy initiative while we all know that Covid-19 restrictions could be re-applied any day.”

In NSW there are almost 400,000 people employed in the property industry. It has been estimated that the construction and development sectors contribute to almost 10 per cent of the state’s economy.

According to the Australian Construction Industry Forum's latest forecasts, the pandemic will cut $4.8 billion from Australian construction output for 2020 and 2021.

The main elements of the decline would be a 34 per cent drop in accommodation work, a 23 per cent decline in entertainment and recreation (such as sporting clubs, casinos, museums and galleries), and an 11 per cent decline in education.

Some sectors are expanding despite the pandemic-induced weakness, with industrial property, health and aged-care, and expenditure on infrastructure, bridges and railways and roads experiencing high volumes of construction activity.

The latest official building approvals figures released on Wednesday showed approvals in high-rise apartments—buildings more than four-storeys—doubled during the month of February.

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