Building review aims for consents in 10 days

Neil McLeod
Neil McLeod
Redesigning the Dunedin City Council's building control unit should mean processing of building consents is reduced to 10 days within six months, the council says.

That should be good news for property owners and builders, who have faced delays of up to 50 days in recent years, when processing of consents was at its worst.

The building control unit - since December 3 known as Building Services - is the first council department to be overhauled as part of council chief executive Paul Orders' efficiency review of all the council's services.

Builders say they are pleased to hear the ''right noises'' coming from council management about improving the service, and are hopeful the changes will result in a better service, but accept that could take time.

As a result of the year-long review, which involved two external reviews and a strengths/weaknesses analysis with staff, there have been changes to building services staff roles and functions, as well as the unit's systems and processes, which management say should mean people with building projects will see improvements in efficiency.

Kevin Thompson
Kevin Thompson
As part of the ''service redesign'', building services staff will now be dedicated to specialist roles, about 10 people processing consents and 10 being building inspectors, rather than rotating between the two jobs.

All staff will be trained to be multi-skilled to the standards required for a basic residential dwelling, while specialist staff will deal with the various aspects of bigger projects.

Regulatory services manager Kevin Thompson said that should result in fewer people needing to be involved in the processing of each application, which should result in more efficient processing as well as reduce the possibility of confusion or misunderstandings.

The building services team will also move to using a central electronic processing system during the next few months.

An electronic system, which could include things like people being able to submit plans to the council via email and building inspectors sending in live information from site via wireless technology, is being developed in-house. Other councils have already switched to such electronic systems, and all local authority systems will one day marry with a central processing system the Government is keen to develop.

Five dedicated administrative staff will be focused on building services alone, and allow processors and inspectors to focus on their core roles.

There is also a focus on more communication with people applying for consents, including pre-application meetings. Mr Thompson expected people would notice big changes in about six months when the new structure and processes had properly bedded in.

Building services manager Neil McLeod said while the goal was to reduce consent processing time frames to 10 days, that was dependent on the incoming workload remaining steady.

He expected people with building projects would most notice the changes by the fact they should only have to deal with one person processing their consents, and one building inspector for the whole project. There were no job losses in the review, but six vacant positions will not be filled.

The changes follow a 20% decrease in the cost of consents in late 2011 after an independent report showed both the cost of consents and the cost of running the building control department were significantly higher in Dunedin than other areas.

A new deposit system was also introduced, whereby applicants pay a deposit for their consent, which Mr Thompson said should largely be the expected end cost of a project.

Otago Master Builders Federation president Mark Ward said he was aware of the changes, and builders hoped they would improve a service that had been under par for a long time.

It had always concerned builders that consents could be processed in half the time by outside organisations contracted to help

Dunedin when it was overwhelmed.

''If they can do it, it would be brilliant.''

Improvements would require a culture change, and that could take a long time, he said.

- debbie.porteous@odt.co.nz

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