Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Building consents debacle: Chief steps down

Christchurch City Council chief executive Tony Marryatt has taken leave over the building consents issue.
Christchurch City Council chief executive Tony Marryatt has taken leave over the building consents issue.

Christchurch City Council boss Tony Marryatt has taken leave over the building consents debacle and the Government has launched an urgent inquiry to see if any buildings are dangerous and need to be demolished.

Controversial council chief executive Mr Marryatt wasn't answering the door at his home in suburban Burnside tonight and it is not known when he will return to work.

The council will meet tomorrow to work out how to get its underfire consents department back on track.

"We believe action needs to be taken,'' Mayor Bob Parker said today after it emerged Mr Marryatt was taking leave "pending further discussions with the council''.

The council was due to have crunch talks with government ministers this afternoon over the council's failure to retain International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) accreditation for building consents.

But the talks were cancelled at the eleventh hour after a decision by Mr Parker to seek the appointment of a Crown manager to address the situation.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, Local Government Minister Chris Tremain and Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson all welcomed the decision.

Now, following IANZ concerns over technical processing that means building consents might not meet the requirements of the building code, a Government audit has been instigated.

"The potential for there to be sub-standard buildings as a result of a less than adequate consenting process is a huge worry to the Government,'' said Mr Brownlee.

"This is something we must move on quickly so that the people of Christchurch can rebuild their city with confidence.''

While officials say initial assessments have shown that it's "highly unlikely'' any recently consented buildings would have to be demolished, Mr Williamson said "we will need to check to be sure''.

At a hastily-called press conference in the Mayor's Lounge this afternoon, Mr Parker said urgent action was needed to investigate why he and elected members were not being told "significant... crucial pieces of information'' about the performance of the consents department.

"It's very clear councillors have not been given all the information they needed,'' he said.

"That's an appalling situation to find yourself in as a governance body, and that's why we have taken immediate action.''

The fact that earlier this week he said it was business as usual was "embarrassing'' for him.

IANZ scrapped its backing over fears the council was granting consents that could potentially put people and property at risk.

Questions over the safety of some building consents already granted were valid, Mr Parker said, saying he was "really concerned''.

He admitted that those consents have not yet been identified, but an investigation, aided by officials from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) will be looking at that immediately.

The mayor will put a resolution to Mr Tremain at a special meeting of council at 12.45pm tomorrow to put in place a Crown manager to oversee the council's consents department.

"It's crucial that the community and the Government have complete confidence in the robustness of the consents process which is vital for the city's rebuild,'' Mr Parker said.

"The situation around building consents is serious, and it has become apparent that councillors have not been well served by the information that has been provided to us.''

Mr Marryatt was on full pay, he said, and while it was unclear how long he would be away from council, more details would emerge after tomorrow's meeting.

Mr Marryatt's leave was "directly connected to the consenting issue'', he said.

General Manager City Environment, Jane Parfitt, will be acting chief executive.

Mr Parker was unsure if Mr Marryatt would take legal action against the council.

And he would not be stepping down himself, saying he intended to resolve the issues.

Mr Brownlee said the council's move was a "constructive and welcome step forward''.

The council will be required by legislation to co-operate with the Crown manager, comply with the manager's directions, and comply with any reasonable request to provide relevant information.

- NZ Herald

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