builders say they are fed up with delays in processing
building consents for city projects. Debbie Porteous asks
what their concerns are and what is happening in the Dunedin
City Council's consent processing department.
The Dunedin City Council last week acknowledged the time it
takes to process building consents is sometimes unacceptable,
after complaints from frustrated builders.
The builders believe comments made recently in the Otago
Daily Times by the council's building services manager, Neil
McLeod, were misleading and show the council is not taking
the issue seriously.
But the council says it understands the implications of the
delays and is as frustrated as anyone about the situation.
''Believe me, if we could fix it easily, we would have done
it by now,'' Mr McLeod said.
Builders baulked at comments Mr McLeod made last month that
building consents were taking on average 21 working days to
process - a day over the 20-working-day period required by
law - and that the longest at that time had been with the
council for 32 working days.
Four builders spoken to by the ODT said Mr McLeod must have
been mistaken, and cited examples of consents they believed
had already been with the council longer than 32 days at the
time of his comments.
Otago Master Builders Association president and Dunedin
builder Mark Ward, Stonewood Homes Dunedin director Graeme
Sneddon, Jennian Homes Otago director Debbie Payne and GJ
Gardner Homes Otago managing director Laurie Mains all said
they thought consent processing was taking longer than
All claimed to have had, in the past few months, consents
that took longer than 32 days to process - a claim the
council is investigating.
Mr Sneddon said firms had people leaving them because of the
uncertainty and delays, which were ''just not good enough''.
Mr Ward said it was causing issues with planning work.
''You can't mobilise staff until you have a consent. You
don't want to pay people for doing nothing; that's not good
And Mr Mains said he was on the verge of laying off men
because consents were taking so long and a number of builders
he had spoken to were ''very concerned'' the council had not
accepted the seriousness of the situation.
They said they believed the council used requests for more
information, which stops the clock, as a reason to extend
processing times, and suggested applicants were sometimes
asked for more information on the 18th or 19th day, in order
to stop the clock.
They said they were also sometimes asked a second time for
information that was not asked for the first time.
''Why don't they ask for the information earlier in the
process?'' Mr Mains asked. He also questioned the systems the
council used and the whether the staff doing the consenting
work had the right skills.
Approached with the builders' concerns, Mr McLeod and his
manager Kevin Thompson last week acknowledged they were
getting further and further behind.
It was true they were not getting to applications until the
18 or 19th day in some cases, but denied the suggestions
applicants were asked for new information in a second request
deliberately, saying it would only be a genuine mistake.
They categorically denied requests for information were used
as a way to stop the clock and said more information was
sought only where it was legally required, noting consents
Mr McLeod acknowledged the information he shared recently did
not paint the fuller figure, particularly as it only
considered completed consents over a period.
There were many uncompleted consents in the system at any
Fuller records he provided showed that over the three months
from February 1 to April 30, 69% of the 564 consent
applications granted by the service were completed within 20
It took an average of 13 days to process the ones that were
completed in that period.
Just under a third of those applications (176) took longer
than 20 working days to complete, with the longest of those
taking 38 working days.
Of those 176 consents, about half were stopped while further
information was sought, the only time the clock was ever
Mr Thompson said about a third of all applications usually
required further information.
''One of the main points is that if all the required
information was there in the first place, consents should be
able to be processed in a few days.''
Staff were there to assist people with a pre-check before
submitting applications, but it was not a detailed check, the
likes of which the council could not afford.
He said the reason for the present delays were clear.
It was a combination of a lack of resources - mainly the
''immense difficulty'' they had been having in finding
replacements for two consent processing positions vacated at
Christmas - and the recent unavailability, due to
Christchurch putting pressure on the whole system, of other
consenting authorities to process the council's overflow
through peaks in applications and when staff numbers were
He said they had advertised the positions three times and
found only one person as a result.
It would be several months before that person was up to speed
and three years before they were fully qualified.
Part of the difficulty was that people were going to work in
Christchurch instead, and it was also hard find anyone with
the particular qualifications processors required, or who
wanted to study, outside of work for three years, to get
The other issue was that for several weeks until Thursday
last week, no other authorities had any capacity to help
An Auckland firm was now able to do some, so he hoped the
times would reduce.
''We've just been double-whammied this past while.''
Despite these issues, he was confident the system did work
well when fully staffed - he noted consent processing times
were down to a 10-day average before Christmas, when the full
team of 10 were all working.
He was ''absolutely'' confident his staff were appropriately
qualified and competent to do the job. They had to be
independently assessed to become an accredited processor.
Processors worked by considering each application as it came
in and one processor dealt with an application from beginning
It was a new system, installed late last year following
concerns from the industry that it was inefficient to have
several people dealing with one application.
Staff also worked on a consent until it was completed, before
beginning the next, returning to stopped consents when the
extra information required came in.
That could slow the process.
The council did employ a person specifically to process
consents for small projects, such as installing a fire or
building a deck.
''We would love to hire more people. The key to that is
having the right people available to hire,'' Mr Thompson