City council lambasted for hefty building consent fees

Invercargill City Council is defending its "outrageous" building consent fees after billing one contractor six times the amount charged by other South Island councils.

Contractor Calder Developments received a bill for $17,620 in building consent fees about two months ago while constructing a canopy for Niagara Sawmill at its Kennington site.

Sawmill owner Ken Richardson said the contractor had been expecting a bill for about $3000, so the $17,620 fee was a shock.

He approached other lower South Island councils to compare fees, and was told the Southland, Clutha, and Waitaki district councils would have charged between $2000 and $3800 for the canopy's building consent fees.

"The ICC charges are totally unacceptable. [It] is unbelievable," he said.

He did not believe there was anything unusual about the building that could account for the extra cost. "It's a very basic structure. It's just a canopy."

Although angry about the price, Mr Richardson paid the $17,620. "We paid it. We had no option, otherwise the building wouldn't get started."

On December 5, the council emailed Calder Developments to offer a $8056 refund, explaining the fee rate had changed and the original fee structure did not suit the type of building. That reduced the consent fee to $9564.

Though it was a significant deduction, it was still a hefty price, Mr Richardson said. "It's still three times what it should be. It's just outrageous. The city council have their own rules and most people just buckle under."

Calder Developments and Mr Richardson had asked the council for a refund, but had not yet received a reply, he said.

"The council should be encouraging development, not inhibiting it by charging such outrageous consent fees."

Southland District Council building consent processor Jim Barnes said the Southland District Council would have charged $2079 in building consent fees, not including government levies.

Waitaki and Clutha district councils could not verify how much their building consent fees for the project would be, but Waitaki District Council regulatory services manager Steven May said

it was likely Mr Richardson was given a "quick estimate" that would not include extra costs such as development contributions.

Invercargill City Council environmental and planning services director Pamela Gare said councils had different funding systems and believed other councils charged more in rates to subsidise building consent fees, keeping them lower than in Invercargill.

Though the city council did put rates towards building consents, it placed more responsibility on users than other councils did, she said.

"The philosophy of the Invercargill City Council at this time is that building consents should be 100 per cent user-pays."

The proportion of building consent costs covered by users and by ratepayers was decided each year by public submission. "I'm not aware that Mr Richardson has ever made a submission on council fees."

Building consent fees varied depending on the size and type of the structure and the amount of time council inspectors had to spend at the site, she said. Ms Gare believed the sawmill canopy had been an unusual application and so extra council costs, for inspections, administrative costs and processing, applied.

She said council records showed the building consent fees for the Niagara Sawmill canopy were only $6864.60, and the company would get a rebate.

The Southland Times