Report slams processing of consents

Clients dealing with Queenstown Lakes District Council's ''obstructive'' consents and regulatory arm have strong concerns about its performance, a report on a proposed restructure reveals.

The confidential consultation report - issued to council staff on Tuesday and recommending sweeping changes - contains stinging criticism of the resource consent-processing department at council-controlled organisation Lakes Environmental (LE).

It says that among issues raised by external stakeholders was a description of Lakes Environmental's resource management culture as ''obstructive and excessively risk-averse'' when dealing with applicants.

The feedback strongly supported a view staff members lacked the judgement to determine which issues were truly significant. The report, compiled by an independent review team led by former Auckland Regional Council chief executive Peter Winder, also says the Queenstown ''reject rate'' for consents when compared nationally is high.

''All external stakeholders spoken to expressed strong concern about the current performance of the resource management services division,'' the report says, adding it is accepted that any organisation fulfilling such functions will come in for criticism from time to time because of the nature of its business.

''However, the criticisms made by external stakeholders were consistent and were often made by entities doing similar business with other district and city councils throughout New Zealand.''

In response, Lakes Environmental chief executive Hamish Dobbie said his first obligation was to respond to the report authors, so he would not discuss it in general terms via the media.

However, he added: ''I think the report relies heavily on what customers have said - and maybe criticism that has come from a customer or customers.''

The report gives a specific example of a commercial development in a commercial zone taking 22 months and $200,000 to process, despite being relatively straightforward and ''generally consistent with the zoning provisions''.

Asked about that, Mr Dobbie said it seemed unusual.

''It's difficult to know what the consent was, so we're guessing - and on that basis, it's pretty difficult for me to make an informed comment.

''I'm not disputing that it occurred, as I don't know which consent they're referring to - but it would seem unusual.''

Mr Dobbie declined to comment on a statement in the report - confirmed by Lakes Environmental staff, council planning and policy staff and external stakeholders - that the relationship between Lakes Environmental staff and council planners was ''strained''.

The report says: ''It's important that there's a clear understanding held by those processing resource consent applications as to how the various district plan provisions are intended to apply.

''The current strained relationship in this regard does not assist this process.''

By contrast, the report gives a glowing review of Lakes Environmental's building department, saying feedback indicates building consent-processing times are acceptable and value for money: '' ... the division is well led, innovative and well resourced with pragmatic and experienced people''.

As recommended in the first stage of the review, the council decided last month to disestablish Lakes Environmental as a CCO and bring its functions back in-house. It is doing the same with venue and recreation operator Lake Leisure.

The move means Mr Dobbie's position as chief executive no longer exists. However, it is proposed a new role of planning and development general manager be created in the council.

That job, overseeing a department of 34.25 full-time equivalent staff, will be advertised externally on May 2 if council chief executive Adam Feeley approves the proposals. Overall, the review proposes axing the equivalent of 41.83 full-time positions, contributing to estimated savings of at least $2 million annually.

By Ryan Keen. 

Proposed restructure

Existing staff (Queenstown Lakes District Council, Lakes Environmental, Lakes Leisure)
- 334 roles (265.98 full-time equivalents)
Proposed staff - 254 roles (224.15 full-time equivalents)
Overall staff cut - 80 roles (41.83 full-time equivalents)
New/pre-existing jobs to be advertised (some internally only) - 74 roles (76.75 full-time equivalents) 

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