Council warned right to issue consents at risk

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 07/11/2012
Peter Townsend
DON SCOTT/Fairfax NZ
Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend

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The Christchurch City Council could be stripped of its ability to issue building consents unless it fixes policy and procedural problems identified by an external audit.

The audit, by government agency International Accreditation New Zealand (Ianz), identified 17 failings in the way the council performed its building control functions.

The council is confident it can fix the problems identified in the audit and says the city's rebuild will not be impeded by the failings flagged in the report.

"There is nothing in here that gives this council any undue alarm at the ongoing viability of the building consent authority [BCA]," council building operations manager Ethan Stetson told The Press.

"We have very good staff, very good processes and very good technology that is only going to get better."

Ianz has given the council until February 1 to address the failings and has warned that failure to comply with its requests could cost the council its accreditation.

It has also made a series of "strong recommendations" for change, a copy of its assessment report leaked to The Press shows.

This is not the first time that Ianz has raised concerns about the way the council has performed its building control functions. A routine assessment by Ianz in October 2009 identified problems with the council's BCA.

The agency had planned to conduct a special assessment in September 2010 but that did not happen because of the September 4 earthquake.

Another routine assessment that Ianz had scheduled for September 2011 was postponed by government decree.

The audit, conducted in September, was limited to a review of the work the BCA had done since February this year.

Among the problems the audit identified were:

❏ Consents being granted where the scope of work was unclear, decisions being made about compliance were not well-recorded and systems and processes were not being applied consistently by the BCA's processing teams.

❏ The council was failing to assess or review the competency of its BCA staff at least annually.

❏ The IT system provided to the BCA did not allow it to perform its building control functions in an appropriate manner.

❏ Statutory forms used by the BCA did not always meet the required standards.

If the council loses its accreditation, it will be unable to issue any building consents, one of its key functions and an essential source of income.

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"It's not going to happen - not on my watch," Stetson said.

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend said the council's position was worrying and it must address the issues raised by Ianz immediately.

"We have to have a local government that has the ability to consent or otherwise everything grinds to a halt. They have to pull out all the stops to rectify the problems without any delay."

Stetson said most of the issues raised in the audit were minor and had already been addressed.

A working party had been established to deal with the remainder of the issues raised and the council aimed to have all of them rectified by Christmas.

- The Press

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