Record high demand causes building consent delays in Palmerston North

Property developer Brian Green, left, with DKSH director Russell Wilson at the construction of DKSH's HQ last year, has ...
Grant Matthew

Property developer Brian Green, left, with DKSH director Russell Wilson at the construction of DKSH's HQ last year, has had four building consents delayed recently.

Delays have started to creep into the building consent process as the number of applications in Palmerston North soars.

Palmerston North City Council provisional data showed there were about 120 applications for consents in April. This was the highest monthly total since 2008 and double the number of March applications.

The council attributed the high demand to record overseas migration numbers contributing to a period of high population growth, and a strong increase in commercial developments.

General manager for customer services Peter Eathorne said the rising number of consent applications was starting to create some delays.

​"Normally we receive on average between 15 and 20 consents a week. This has reached a level in the last 2 months of between 25 and 40 consents per week, a notable increase in workload for staff, the highest level for several years."

Over the past six months 98 per cent of building consents were processed on time, but Eathorne said that had likely dropped to about 90 per cent in April .

Palmerston North Mayor Grant Smith said the delays were not ideal, but they were a symptom of growth pains. 

"This increase showed the city is starting to grow quite fast."

Council economic advisor Peter Crawford said that growth was being fuelled by a 25 year high in overseas migration.

Palmerston North gained 680 people from migration  over the 12 month period ending in March, up on the 548 in the previous year.

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There were few signs building consents would decrease in the immediate future, and the number of delays could increase, Eathorne said.

"We're not seeing a big turn around in getting them out quicker," he said

"Developers and builders are all telling us they have full order books and they've never been busier."

The council was taking a number of steps to improve the consent process including hiring more staff and developing an online processing system, he said.

Expanding the processing team was an urgent priority for the council but experienced staff were hard to come by, Eathorne said.

"Developers, builders, and businesses can be assured council is doing its best to attract capable people to meet this new demand."

In the meantime, council was working closely with the industry to keep the process as quick as possible.

On average 54 per cent of applications had insufficient details, which was a major contributor to delays.

Eathorne encouraged applicants to consult with council in order to look for potential problems before they submitted their consents.

Property developer Brian Green had experienced delays on four of his development groups projects, but he was satisfied with how the council was handling the situation.

"There have been delays but we've had a couple of meetings with council, the last one was on Wednesday," he said.

"They're certainly doing their best to streamline the process and reduce delays."

One of the delayed projects had now received approval and Green expected the remaining three consents to be sorted by the end of next week.

In the longer term council is working to introduce an online consents processing system to make the whole process more efficient.

Eathorne said the biggest efficiency gain would be the applications going to every relevant department at the same time.

Currently the applications have to go through each department in turn, even when some sections could be processed at the same time.

An online system would also capture data on common mistakes and issues in the applications, allowing council to set up an FAQ to help applicants catch them before they applied.

The council is currently assessing which system would best fit the city's needs.

"Hopefully we'll have a decision by the end of the month. We'll then look to implement it as soon as possible."

 - Stuff

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