Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Faster building consents wanted

In the survey of 328 small businesses, 83 per cent said they would vote for a mayoral candidate who proposed to speed up the consent process. Photo / Michael Cunningham
In the survey of 328 small businesses, 83 per cent said they would vote for a mayoral candidate who proposed to speed up the consent process. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Auckland businesses want the city's new mayor to focus on making it easier and faster to approve building consents, a survey conducted by accounting software firm MYOB shows.

In the survey of 328 small businesses, 83 per cent said they would vote for a mayoral candidate who proposed to speed up the consent process.

The housing issue eclipsed the 77 per cent support for more investment in public transport and 75 per cent for more investment in roads, according to the survey conducted by Colmar Brunton.

"Auckland businesses want action on housing from the new mayor. They want to see the process of applying for and receiving a consent sped up," said MYOB general manager James Scollay.

Labour MP and mayoral candidate Phil Goff said he commonly heard complaints about the consenting processes and stories of huge fees as a percentage of building work.

He promised a review of the building and resource consents process, saying he would like to see things streamlined and sped up without sacrificing quality.

Another mayoral candidate, businesswoman Vic Crone, said she would look at reducing consent times, including the hold time; digitalise the process and introducing more competition to improve performance.

"I've heard from developers that the delay with consents is so bad, their interest costs with banks end up being about 30 per cent of the total development costs.

"Even something as simple as adding a deck on an existing property can end up in an unnecessary amount of bureaucracy, costing almost the same amount as the raw materials to build it," she said.

In April last year, Auditor-General Lyn Provost reviewed Auckland Council's building control department and found that while most consents technically met the statutory timeframe of 20 working days, most went 'on hold' pending further information.

She said 80 per cent of applications were processed within 40 days and, in exceptional circumstances, some took more than 100 days to process.

Ms Provost said the council needed to reduce the average time it took to process applications and recommended it publish actual time frames performance measures as well as statutory deadlines measures.

Her staff also found the average cost of a sample of actual consent fees was "significantly higher than the fees shown on Auckland Council's website".

In the first week of May, Auckland Council processed 97 per cent of building consents within 20 working day, excluding days applications were on hold.

Building control general manager Ian McCormick said a number of improvements had been made since Ms Provost's report, including online consenting and training sessions for staff and professionals groups.

He said improvements had been masked by several factors, including a high proportion of applications requiring additional information, industry pressure taking longer to provide council with information, and the consents team's heavy workload.

Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell said Auckland Council had a very complicated and expensive system costing money and time.

"Even a domestic fence, for goodness sake, you have got to get consents for," Mr Campbell said.

Businesses were more evenly split on moving the port with 39 per cent support for shifting it from the Auckland waterfront and 30 per cent opposing a move.

Selling council assets, such as shares in the airport and the port, was a big negative to business owners. Just 25 per cent supported assets sales.

Auckland Council says it is looking at new ways to improve building consent processes.

Regulatory director Penny Pirrit said a review on building consents was underway.

Plans to tailor processes according to specific consent requests were being looked at.

"We're looking at a service from a perspective of a customer experience. It's not just about speed and costs but the quality of service and consistency of decisions," Ms Pirrit said.

Online consent applications were also being trialled.

"The quality of the application is a primary requirement to achieving speed and reduced costs," Ms Pirrit said.

"One of the big challenges we face is the poor quality of some applications, causing delays as we seek further information.

"Having all the information required at the start is key to a successful and timely outcome and that's where pre-application meetings with council staff can assist applicants."

- NZ Herald

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