Building consent inconsistencies highlighted

A new home being built in Mosgiel. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
A new home being built in Mosgiel. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
Property developers and builders say consenting authorities (BCAs) are failing in their duty to "demystify" the consenting process.

Under the building act, BCA’s are responsible for processing and issuing building consents, inspecting and certifying buildings for compliance and issuing notices to fix.

There are 83 BCAs accredited to the IANZ and ultimately beholden to the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

All operate under the same building code, which ostensibly sets clear expectations of the standards buildings should meet.

Given the clearcut rules, there seem to be a lot of inconsistencies in the process, developers say.

Not least is cost and what developers refer to as the "human element."

Dunedin registered master builder Bill Hamilton said part of the problem related to inspections and their degree of interpretation while everybody was running around "covering their own ass".

Queenstown builder Allister Saville agreed, saying property owners and developers should be able to get a consent on the same terms whether the build is in Queenstown, Dunedin or Auckland.

"One of the big issues is with inspections. One inspector will pull something and the next inspector does something different and their opinions differ."

Mr Hamilton said sometimes it was a communication problem between the council, architect or draughtsman and owner where the scope of the work was not clear.

"For example, a project information memo may not be required, so that ends up costing time and money where that isn’t clearly understood.

"Or there may be different interpretations over the number of inspections required," he said.

Generally, builders believed they could hand through "four identical consent applications" for four properties and get four very different processes, queries from inspectors and costs.

In practice, the "four different responses" scenario isn’t likely, council consenting offices argue, because there will be inherent differences in each.

"Where you get different responses or there are variable costs to the same set of plans, differing locations and district plans may have a lot to do that," says Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean.

"Construction of, for example, a stand-alone steel prefab two-car garage in Wellington City, Queenstown Lakes, Dunedin and Tasman, might bring marked different responses due to impacts on landscapes, distance from boundaries, effects on sunlight or access for neighbours."

To assist with consistency of processing, Wellington, along with another 24 BCAs are part of an online portal called simpli.

The portal includes an online application service for submitting, viewing and managing building consent applications.

Other councils have joined, including Waitaki, Waimate, Invercargill, Southland and Gore, although neither the DCC nor Queenstown Lakes District Council has opted in.

Kainga Ora (formerly Housing NZ) is also using the portal for its new building consent authority, under which it expects to process around 4000 consents per year.

Waitaki council programme manager Richard Maher said the portal was ideal for small to medium councils, where it was difficult to scale up to meet demand.

Dunedin City Council (DCC) building solutions manager Paul Henderson said the DCC had been offering its own online portal for a number of years and was now in the early stages of looking at the full building consent processing side.

"That is about getting analysis, staff and customer feedback as a first phase of the process, really to see ... if there are enhancements we can make, or if we should be looking at something like simpli," he said.

He said there were "no delays" as far as booking inspections, which generally took around three days across both commercial and residential properties.

The charges

Indicative costs and consent turnarounds (based on ODT online research). 
Dunedin City Council*

  • Average number of consent applications per month: 225 Expected time to issue code compliance: 97% within 20 work days Fee: $500k residential building (< 3 storeys) with vehicle parking: $4480.00

Queenstown Lakes District Council

  • Average number of consent applications per month: 165 Expected time to issue code compliance: 13 work days Fee: $500k residential building (< 3 storeys ) with vehicle parking: $4895.00 Each of the three costs includes government fees, including the BRANZ (Building Research Assocation) levy and the MBIE building levies, of $1.00 and $2.01 per $1000 of building work respectively.

Wellington City Council

  • Average number of consent applications per month: 220 Expected time to issue code compliance: 20 work days Fee $500k residential building (< 3 storeys) with vehicle parking: $6171.64

* For DCC there is a levy on building applications of more than $700,000, which attracts additional administration costs and the PIM cost.


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