Council consents: 'Critically important' that process is sped up

By Adam Bennett, APNZ staff

Cabinet ministers Gerry Brownlee and Chris Tremain will travel to Christchurch on Wednesday to try and broker a deal with Christchurch City Council over the building consent problems that are slowing the earthquake rebuild.

International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) this morning revoked the council's accreditation as a building consents authority, after it failed to improve its consenting process over the last month.

However the council will continue to issue consents even though they will no longer be approved by the independent authority IANZ from next Monday onwards.

Mayor Bob Parker said the move was unlikely to make any difference to the council, and it would be business as usual.

But Prime Minister John Key said IANZ's decision was unprecedented.

He said the council had made "tremendous progress" in terms of the rebuild but many Cantabrians were frustrated at the pace of the work.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Mr Brownlee and Internal Affairs Minister Mr Tremain would travel to Christchurch on Wednesday for talks with the council about next steps and "some proposals to allow progress to continue and to see where we go next".

"What is clear is we do need to resolve this situation, it's critically important for the rebuild of Christchurch that the process is sped up."

Mr Brownlee said the Government wanted "to develop a longer term solution that ensures the Christchurch City Council delivers timely, quality consents, and that they are again IANZ accredited".

"It's important the Christchurch City Council realises how essential accredited consenting capacity is to the rebuild they need to be part of the solution."

Until he had spoken with the council he didn't want to speculate about "other possible Government actions", Mr Brownlee said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Mr Parker said although the council's IANZ accreditation was to be withdrawn next week, "it doesn't actually stop our ability in any legal form to do our work".

"We are still able to carry out all our other building functions like inspections [and] code of compliance certificates."

All building consent applications would continue to be processed, he said.

IANZ chief executive Llew Richards, who could not discuss specifics of the decision due to privacy issues, said in a statement issued this morning that a high level of responsibility was expected of any accreditation body.

"The critical issue is ensuring all issued building consents fully comply with the technical requirements of the Building Code and Building Act.

"For example, buildings must meet structural engineering standards, fire protection requirements and be weather-tight."

Dr Richards said any accredited building consent authorities had to ensure all staff members understood the specific standards required when approving consents.

"The people issuing consents must be technically competent to do so - and any limitations on their competence clearly understood.

"The BCA's [Building Consent Authority] competence review of its staff and an on-going audit of allocating work to competent people all need to be recorded and established as effective," he said.

These records were kept as evidence of compliance with the Building Act.

"Without such evidence, neither IANZ nor the building owners can have assurance the consenting process is sound," Dr Richards said.

Mr Parker and Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee have planned to meet on Wednesday.

The IANZ decision to revoke the council's accreditation as a building consents authority follows a one-month period in which the council was told to improve its consenting process.

The Government had also threatened to step in due to the local body's "repeated inability" to meet statutory time-frames for processing building consents.

The council received an average of 35 building applications a day in March and April, according to the agenda from this month's planning committee meeting.

This workload led council officers to report: "We have seen backlogs develop across all process steps - from pre-processing initial data entry through processing and into typing. The sheer volume exceeds capacity, and applicants are expressing a significant level of concern at this."

Mr Brownlee had previously hit out at the council's slow response, saying: "The council knew this workload was coming and hasn't adequately addressed it".

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