Consents: Marryatt must front

JODY O'CALLAGHAN, RACHEL YOUNG AND LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 02/07/2013

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Christchurch City Council chief executive Tony Marryatt needs to front up on the council's consenting issues after the Government announced it was stepping in, a city business leader says.

In an unprecedented move, the council will have its consent accreditation revoked from Monday, after International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) said it did not have the "necessary confidence" in it, and followed through on its threat after delays and a backlog of consents.

The Government planned to step in to solve the consenting debacle, with a crisis meeting being held today to discuss intervention options.

The council will still lawfully receive, process and grant building consents, but its lack of accreditation meant its process did not meet optimum standards.

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend told TVNZ's Breakfast programme this morning that senior management and the council "need to be held to account" for the problems.

"There are issues of poor performance and this falls firmly back on the leadership."

Mayor Bob Parker had stepped up to speak on governance issues relating to the debacle, but chief executive Tony Marryatt had not been seen, Townsend said.

"The chief executive's been pretty quiet on this one and I would like to see him fronting on this issue."

Townsend said a "new management regime" needed to be put in place for the consenting team.

"This is the only way we can go forward. We need it fixed."

Parker, who was shocked to hear yesterday his mission to retain IANZ's confidence had failed, told The Press it was only "temporary" and hoped to have accreditation back in two months.

"We have to make sure we get it back."

Senior consenting staff will discuss strategies with Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) officials today, before Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Local Government Minister Chris Tremain meet them in Christchurch tomorrow. Brownlee would not "speculate about other possible government actions" until then.

Parker was happy to have his staff work alongside MBIE, so that people could have the "confidence that the work we are doing still serves in the customers' best interest".

"It's going to only be temporary and I expect to have an outcome in a couple of months."

In the meantime the council was processing consents as usual.

"There's no need for people who are about to apply or have a consent in the system to worry," Parker said. "We are still issuing consents and our systems are, in our view, fully compliant."

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Christchurch property developers are demanding swift action.

Property Council president and Ngai Tahu Properties chief executive Tony Sewell wanted to know how things went so wrong.

"You just have to ask yourself, what is going on within the management of the city council? They can't even do their basic role."

Developer Richard Peebles said he was "really caught by surprise" council was losing its accreditation but he was confident the consent process would eventually improve.

"I think maybe some of the senior council people might take it a bit more seriously and actually acknowledge there is a problem. It's pretty hard to solve a problem if you don't acknowledge you've got one."

He just got a consent for a "big build" granted on Friday. It had been fast-tracked, but still took three months.

Mike Greer Homes director Mike Greer said the council was marginally slower than other councils at processing consents, possibly due to the council dealing with a larger number.

Greer had 12 people in their Christchurch consents team, who had audits to check for missing information done on all consents before filing them with the council.

Richard Diver, from Countrywide Property, said spending more time and money on consents was an important way to save time post-quakes. "The reality is, two years ago nobody was applying for building consents.

"You just can't beat an organisation like that up over night to cope with the huge influx, and the increase in workload is significant."

In the past 14 days the council issued 632 consents with a combined value of $160 million.

Of the original 500 backlogged consents which Parker committed to clearing by the end of June, 25 remained yesterday morning. All were expected to be cleared by the end of the working day.

TIMELINE

October 2009: A routine assessment by IANZ identifies problems with the council's Building Consent Authority

September 2012: International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ)

October 2012: IANZ identifies 17 failings in the way the council performed its building control functions.

February 2013: Deadline for fulfilling corrective actions, majority of corrective actions signed off by IANZ.

May 2013: Reassessment is undertaken.

May 30 2013: Letter from IANZ gave the council formal notice of intention to revoke its accreditation as a consent authority if it does not improve its performance by June 28 as six of the 17 issues raised remain unresolved.

June 25-28, 2013: IANZ review the information supplied by council.

July 1, 2013: IANZ inform the council it will revoke its accreditation on July 8, 2013.

ISSUES INCLUDE:

The council not meeting the 20-day statutory timeframe for granting consents.

Not completing required competency assessments for staff undertaking a building control function, such as processing inspections.

Information technology system for consents considered inadequate.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

Why has International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) revoked the council's accreditation to issue building consents?

IANZ has had concerns about the council's consenting processes for some time. It says while the council has addressed some of these, it is not yet confident the council is operating in full accordance with its accreditation requirements. What are some of the concerns IANZ has raised?

IANZ believes the council has insufficient employees and contractors to handle the volume of consents within the statutory time frames. It is concerned there is no evidence the council has implemented a system for dealing with lapsed or old consents. It also says the council has not provided sufficient evidence all its technical staff have gone through the necessary competency testing, nor has it conducted a full internal audit to ensure all building consents granted are technically valid.

Can the council still issue consents?

Yes, its accreditation does not lapse until July 8. Even after that date, council staff will continue to provide the full range of building consent services. They will continue to receive, process and grant consents, carry out inspections, and process Code of Compliance certificates.

What happens next?

This is unprecedented in New Zealand and the way forward is not yet clear. Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker are meeting tomorrow to discuss what needs to happen from here on in.

Can the council get its accreditation back?

Yes, but it will have to reapply for it and satisfy IANZ that it is operating in full compliance with its stringent accreditation requirements.

- Canterbury

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