Govt help with consents is long overdue

VERNON SMALL
Last updated 07:11 18/06/2013

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Government sends consents staff to Chch City council in consent crisis talks

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OPINION: Are the Government and the Christchurch City Council finally acting like consenting adults?

The announcement that a team from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) will help council officers process consents seems nothing short of the blindingly obvious.

Less clear is why such a solution has taken so long to put in place - even if you accept Mayor Bob Parker's assurances that the council had the situation in hand.

There is no doubt the warning letter to council from International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) put a question mark over his honeyed words.

It is not as if the demolition and the gathering pace of the rebuild didn't sound a loud enough warning to central and local planners of the need to beef up capacity.

Er, didn't we all know two years ago that there were a hell of a lot of buildings to replace, the sooner the better, and that each would require a consent?

Nor should it come as a surprise to the Government that it would need to mobilise its own resources.

The $40 billion Christchurch rebuild is, after all, as much a national economic issue as it is a local and human one.

It is a moot point, though, whether the five-person MBIE team is the cavalry or the advance guard of a full boarding party.

It will have the authority "to make changes as required", Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said yesterday.

In the middle of next week there would be a check on progress to see if more help "or further intervention" was needed.

The threat is clear, but the word from the Beehive is that a Government takeover is unlikely. Rather Brownlee is looking for ways to streamline the process, along the lines of the Waimakariri District Council, where staff are sent out to work alongside builders needing multiple consents.

That way questions are asked and answered by the time the forms are presented for final approval.

Some councillors, though, clearly think they are still being kept out of the loop.

Tellingly, Yani Johanson yesterday tweeted: "Why are cllrs been [sic] kept in dark again over this deal?" - just hours after the "partnership" agreement with council staff was announced.

Planning committee chairwoman Sue Wells saw it as a constructive move, though she alluded to the ongoing power struggle by noting the council's role as the consenting authority remained in place.

The changes may not remove the threat hanging over that role but at the very least IANZ will take comfort from central-government involvement. Look for it to respond by extending the June 28 deadline, to give the council more breathing space.

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The council's planning committee will be briefed on the latest move today, when councillors will judge for themselves whether the help with consents is a move in the right direction or the first step on the road to a full takeover.

What should be weighing more heavily than the political arm wrestling, though, is the human cost of unnecessary delay; another winter without a new home, another month without a key building in the CBD.

- The Press

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