Council staff in Wairarapa feel pressure of surge in demand for building consents

5:25 pm on 31 January 2022

The building boom has gone bonkers in Wairarapa, with two district councils smashing records for the number of new residential building consents issued last year.

Building a house frame

File pic Photo: RNZ

Masterton District Council (MDC) issued 262 new residential building consents in 2021, a massive jump on the year prior (176) and a lot more than its previous record high of 191 in 2018.

South Wairarapa District Council issued 185 new residential building consents last year up to November, compared to a previous record in 2018 of 114 for the whole year.

In terms of ensuring development was sustainable, the key planning document for all three Wairarapa councils is the Wairarapa Combined District Plan, which is under review - with public consultation on the changes likely next year.

The plan sets out where and how development can take place.

The subdivision and development activity that happens before new residential building consents are issued has kept staff equally busy, particularly in Masterton.

Last year, MDC received 119 subdivision consent applications, with a total of 607 lots approved.

For comparison, there were 196 new lots approved in Masterton in 2017.

MDC building control services manager Steven Williams said there was no question that 2021 was a challenging year for the council staff who dealt with consents, but he was proud of what the team had achieved.

"Just as those in the building industry have felt the pressure, so have council staff," Williams said.

"The team is committed to meeting the obligations and responsibilities of the council as a building consent authority, playing an important role in the growth of Masterton.

"That's included staff continuing to do essential work during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns."

Mayor of Masterton Lyn Patterson. Masterton reached 33 degrees, prompting children still on school holidays to take shelter at home or the pool.

Lyn Patterson Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Masterton mayor Lyn Patterson said the council's focus was on delivering the best of rural provincial living.

"And it is clear from the current level of building that people are seeing Masterton and the wider district as a good place to live and bring up children," she said.

"The Wairarapa Combined District Plan was developed 10 years ago and it allowed for the areas where Masterton's urban boundaries could grow.

"The market demand for new housing in the last five years has seen many of those areas fill up with new housing.

"We have also seen a marked increase in in-fill housing.

"Our current review of that combined district plan is a major undertaking ahead of us, where we will again consider where growth can logically occur."

She said Masterton's infrastructure remained in a good state to cope with the growth following some prudent investment over the last 10 years, particularly in water and wastewater systems.

In general terms, residential consents (which include work such as fireplaces right up to new residential building consents) make up about 70 percent of consents.

Each approved consent also leads to the requirement to inspect work.

In the case of a new residential home, up to a dozen inspections are required - more if work needs to be reinspected.

This adds to the workload of the building control services team, with close to 7000 inspections carried out in Masterton last year.

The number of building control officers employed by MDC (six) has remained unchanged since 2019.

The council is looking to recruit an extra two officers.

Building a house appeals to new residents - council manager

South Wairarapa District Council planning and environment manager Russell O'Leary said the high number of new residential building consents issued last year was a cumulative effect of people deciding that building a home was a cost-effective and attractive option, people deciding that South Wairarapa was an attractive place to relocate, and a general uplift in residential growth.

"The high number of consents is keeping our staff very busy but they continue to process applications in a timely manner," O'Leary said.

"Planning is an important feature of residential growth; however, as we see it, the district's current building boom is really driven by available land and a growing desire to build new.

"To sustain this rising population growth in the South Wairarapa, the council recently released its first Spatial Plan, which has a strong focus on residential growth areas looking out to 2050.

"... it is now moving into the master planning stage, which will take about three years."

In the neighbouring Carterton district, a surge in new residential building consents was not seen last year.

In 2021, the council issued 73 new residential building consents, compared to 108 the year prior and a record 117 in 2017.

A spokesperson said that on top of this, 22 houses were relocated to Carterton, "so 95 in total additional dwellings".

Last year, Carterton District Council approved the Carterton east structure plan which would provide for an estimated 462 extra residential sections.

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