City council in consent crisis talks

LOIS CAIRNS, MARC GREENHILL AND RACHEL YOUNG
Last updated 10:24 18/06/2013
Daniel Tobin

The Christchurch City Council meets to discuss its consenting process.

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DEAN KOZANIC
INTENSE DISCUSSION: Christchurch City Council planning committee chairwoman Cr Sue Wells and Mayor Bob Parker listen as a critical meeting about council consenting is held this morning.

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An action plan has been agreed that officials believe will defuse the consents crisis hanging over the Christchurch City Council.

A crisis meeting of its planning committee today discussed its beleaguered consenting process and heard moves have been made to speed up consenting.

Last week, the public were told that International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) had warned the council that unless it lifted its game, on June 28 it would be stripped of its powers to grant consents.

It is understood the council has six areas it must improve by the end of the month.

Committee chairwoman Sue Wells said the council aimed to answer four questions today:

- What needs to happen between now and June 28.

- What the council has done so far.

- What is the remaining gap within the organisation.

- How the council can close that gap.

Acting building operations manager Steve McCarthy told councillors that staff were committeed to ensuring all new building consents met the statutory time frame and that the backlog was dealt with.

He said there were two issues that the council needed to address to keep its accreditation.

The issues related to the competency assessments for technical officers and the time it was taking the council to process consents.

McCarthy said 131 competency assessments had been completed but 12 technical staff still needed to be assessed, and he was confident that could be done by the June 28 deadline.

In the past week, four experienced building consent officers had been employed and staff had begun working evening and weekend shifts.

Additional administration support staff had been brought in.

The goal was to have all new building consents issued within the statutory time frame and the backlog of active consents (about 500) fully resolved over the next three weeks.

Outlining the scale of the task the council was facing, McCarthy said the number of building consents received by the council had jumped by 7 per cent in February, by 18 per cent in March, by 24.5 per cent in April and by 15 per cent in May.

It was receiving over 800 applications a month. Last week, it granted 179 building consents with a combined value of $72 million.

"It's great for the rebuild but it obviously puts pressure on us,'' McCarthy said.

The council's internal processing capacity was 600 building consents a month, while its external contractors could process 180 to 200 consents a month.

"We need more BCOs if we can get them,'' McCarthy said.

"We are currently recruiting for an additional 15 building consent officers and seven building inspectors.''

The council was also looking to widen the number of external consultants who would take its work and investigating whether it could increase the range of minor building work that could be exempted from requiring a building consent. 

Yesterday, the Government announced it had stepped in to help the city council with its consenting problems, sending in a team of technical experts to speed up the flow of consent approvals.

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But a wholesale takeover is looming next week if the council cannot convince authorities it should not have its consenting accreditation revoked.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson yesterday authorised a five-strong team from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to join the Christchurch City Council's consenting department and to make changes to its processes as required.

"You wouldn't expect everything to be put right within a week, but certainly we'll know whether or not the arrangements at the moment are sufficiently resourced, do they need more resource, and if there are other issues," Brownlee told The Press.

Brownlee stressed the ministry team was not there to take over but to work with the council and to advise chief executive Tony Marryatt on what changes needed to be made.

It would be a "tough call" for the council to get back on track by next week, he said.

"It'll be interesting to see how [IANZ] views the intervention in the first place and then what sort of decision it might lead them to towards the end of next week. They are completely independent and we can't predict that at all," he said.

The council is receiving about 40 new building consents each day, but has a backlog of about 1700 historical consents that it needs to clear.

Sixteen consenting officers, four managers and nine administration staff worked over the weekend to begin clearing the backlog and staff are now being rostered on six days a week, but additional resources may still be needed if the council is to address IANZ's concerns by the June 28 deadline.

Since news of the council's consenting crisis surfaced last week it has received offers of help from around the country.

The Invercargill City Council has offered to assist with processing consents and has undertaken to approach other councils in the region to see if they can also help.

The Selwyn District Council has offered to share its expertise.

The Auckland Council has created a Christchurch rebuild team where staff will work extra hours processing consents.

Professional Building Consultants in Auckland, which is contracted to help the council, will increase its capacity to process consents.

Staff from other teams within the Christchurch City Council have also offered to be reassigned to the consents team.

- The Press

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