13 Jun 2013

Mayor confident deadline will be met

9:56 pm on 13 June 2013

The mayor of Christchurch says the council will meet a crucial deadline for improving its building consent process, not because of a threat from the Government, but because staff have been working on the systems all along.

International Accreditation New Zealand has threatened to withdraw the council's authority to grant such consents unless it improves by 28 June.

Each consent should be processed in 20 days, but businesses in Christchurch say some are taking up to four months.

Mayor Bob Parker says the council would usually complete at least 95% of the consents within 20 days, but at the moment just over 80% are processed in that time.

He says delays are being caused by the embedding of a new computer system and a backlog of historical consents.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme it is appalling and unacceptable that building consents have become so backlogged, and something has to be done because it could hinder the rebuild.

"The facts are that they've got a huge backlog and that there is a massive amount of capital, waiting to be spent in our rebuild, held up because the stamps aren't on the plans, and that's a problem."

But Mr Parker says he is confident they will meet the deadline, because they have been working with the various groups involved for the last year.

He says the council is taking on extra staff and asking other councils to share its workload, and he believes most of the backlog will be cleared by the end of the month.

"We'll get there and we'll succeed, but not just because some minister has decided to send us a missile through the media, but because this is our city, these are our people, and it's crucial to us to ensure that we get these processes up to speed at the right time.

"We're coming to the conclusion of a long and detailed process through which we've talked to the IANZ people, and many others, to take them through the fact that we're going to get there."

Building and Housing Minister Maurice Williamson disputes Mr Parker's statement that Christchurch City council has been processing 80% of building consent applications on time.

Mr Williamson says International Accreditation New Zealand has identified several areas where the council is failing.

This includes not carrying out competency assessments on many of their staff and substandard IT systems to measure regulatory timeframes.

Mr Williamson says he'll be getting legal advice on the options open to the Government on Monday.

Christchurch City Council planning committee chair Sue Wells says the threat to remove accreditation is surprising and disappointing, because the council has done its best to be frank about the problems it faces.

Ms Wells says council staff have the matter in hand and she can't understand why the Government is trying to paint a crisis.

Consent delays

Christchurch businessman Mark McGuinness says his consent took 89 days to process instead of the required 20 days.

Mr McGuinness told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme the ANZ Bank is now advising clients to factor in a 30% cost overrun largely due to consenting delays.

The head of the biggest commercial home-building company in Christchurch warns changing the system completely might slow things down further.

Mike Greer, managing director of Mike Greer Homes, says the council's systems do work, just not fast enough. "There's no point in reinventing the wheel, we just need to run with it, but try and help them to do things faster."

Canterbury employers Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend agrees saying a Government take-over would involve a duplication of resources and he hopes the threat is simply a tactic to get the council moving.

Labour's earthquake recovery spokesperson Lianne Dalziel says processing building consents is critical to the council's business and she supports the Government stepping in if the council cannot do better.