Geoff’s Piece: A Better Carrot

The carrot and stick metaphor suggest you can either reward or punish to get the result you want. Building legislation sets out the minimum level of expected performance and failure to meet that level can result in the stick being used.
Universal Design (UD) is a level of performance above the building code, so let’s look at what carrots exist and how successful they have been.
Several countries have created awards and this approach was used by the Singapore Government for a number of years to encourage the use of UD in the construction sector. Other places, such as regions in Canada and some states in the USA, have linked financial support to UD projects, indicating that money for a new development or for home improvements would only be available if the building project met certain UD guidelines.

In Australia, one local Council prioritised the processing of building plans that had UD features ahead of other building plans as a mechanism to drive support.

However, the best carrots, are found locally.

Thames Coromandel District Council (TCDC) and now Hauraki District Council both incentivise Universal Design. They offer increased site coverage to those plans that meet UD criteria as evidenced by a Lifemark® 3-Star or better rating. Reduced fees can also apply as an incentive. The result of these carrots is that 10% of all new builds now have a UD rating. This did not cost the Council additional time or resources and by offering the right incentive the market was motivated to deliver dwellings that are more inclusive for more people. Further analysis shows that instead of delivering a minimum Lifemark® 3-Star rating, the average rating turns out to be a Lifemark® 4-Star.

Copies of the TCDC case study can be found on our website and an interview with the Hauraki council is included in this month’s newsletter.

Palmerston North City Council also have an exemplar UD project in Papaioea Place that achieved Lifemark® 4-Star.

Other councils have opted to use planning controls such as trying to change the District Plan or requiring new exemplary developments to meet certain criteria including the use of UD. Unfortunately, independent planning commissioners and regulators have ruled that you cannot enforce performance criteria above the building code. To use another metaphor, we are legislatively trained to aim at the floor and not the ceiling.

The power to offer incentives is in the hands of local politicians and policy makers and then to let the market respond. This approach offers flexibility, transparency, and encouragement for areas where the population profile is changing, and a people centred approach is wanted.
Carrots, it seems, may be good for us all.

As always please feel free to contact me on as we promote Universal Design to help everyone live the life they want.

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