Early Wartime Controls
Early Wartime Controls
Customarily, building permits are issued in New Zealand by local authorities. As a wartime expedient, a Building Controller was appointed in September 1939 to control their issue and to make sure that sufficient priority was given to works directly associated with the war effort. He could also regulate the supply and use of building materials. By March 1941 an order of priority had emerged, with defence works first, followed by hospital construction, then buildings for processing or storage of farm produce. New factories came next, then housing.page 226
In the early stages of the war, the Building Controller did not make full use of the powers available to him, but tended to be concerned mainly with maintaining the supply of materials, and channelling them to the most urgent work. He was reluctant to restrict unnecessary work, ‘provided labour and materials are available and not required for more essential purposes’.1
Defence construction work did not move above £4 million a year in the first two years of war, but, nevertheless, shortages of building steel and corrugated iron soon became restrictive in the building industry and gave rise to a number of wartime controls over private building.
In January 1941, notice was given that building permits would not be issued by a local authority without the consent of the Building Controller in cases where more than half a ton of structural steel, including reinforcing steel, was required or where the estimated cost exceeded £2000.2 The following month the Building Controller's consent was required also for the erection of any dwelling-house involving the use of corrugated iron.3
Difficulties in getting adequate supplies of iron and steel are discussed in Chapter 6. By 1940, imports of corrugated iron had fallen to less than half of normal, and were to decline much further. By 1941 restrictions on its use were very severe.
In a question in the House of Representatives in August 1941, a member indicated that ‘applications for even small quantities are being refused, such as six sheets, twelve sheets, and forty-four sheets respectively, required for roofing milkstands, lorry sheds, cow sheds etc., and that applicants are being told to use substitute roofing materials in place of iron; and also that no applications are now being considered for any other purposes than for repairs to the roofs of existing dwellings.’4
In the course of his reply, the Minister of Finance, Mr Nash, said: ‘There is an acute shortage, and the position would have been a great deal worse had not the Government taken action by endeavouring to obtain additional supplies from Australia, and by the institution of a control system in New Zealand to ensure that iron is not used for unnecessary purposes, and where substitutes can be used; and by the institution of price control.’
Defence construction expenditure was between £3 million and £4 million a year in 1939–40 and 1940–41,5 but, in these years, page 227 other building work was almost at pre-war levels, and pressure on the industry was mounting. In 1941–42 defence construction work was to rise to over £5 million, with some setback to private building, but there were much greater difficulties to come.
Considerable strains had started to show up in the building industry by late 1941, and better co-ordination would be necessary to get the best possible use of resources. Under pressure of defence work, the contracting system did not show up in its best light. Some contractors were accepting more work than they were capable of completing, whilst others, who had sufficient men and equipment, were not sharing in the work because their tenders were not low enough. Private building was still using a large share of available resources and was at times being given priority by builders over defence work.
1 Proceedings of the General Working Committee of the Economic Stabilisation Conference, September 1940, Part 2, p. 547.
2 The Building Construction Control Order 1940, Gazetted 9 January 1941.
3 The Building Construction Control Notice No. 2, 1941, Gazetted 11 February 1941.
5 March years.