Auckland Council has failed to meet the statutory deadline for thousands of people applying for building and resource consents, according to the country's financial watchdog.
In a damning report, the Deputy Auditor-General has found "material errors" in the important consenting function that drives housing and other developments in the Super City.
The findings are a blow to Mayor Phil Goff, who has said unnecessary delays in council consents slow housing construction and cost consumers more, and further proof to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Housing Minister Phil Twyford that council is acting too slowly to address the housing crisis.
Customer satisfaction is at an all-time low
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Ardern and Twyford are planning to strip Auckland Council of planning powers and set up an urban development authority to overrule the council's Unitary Plan for major Government-led developments in the city.
In the past year, the council processed about 23,000 consents applications, but the Deputy Auditor-General, Greg Schollum, has found that just 52 per cent of building consents and 67 of non-notified resource consents were issued within the 20-day statutory timeframe.
These results are well below last year's reported performance, and council's target of 100 per cent compliance with the 20 statutory days' timeframe, Schollum said in modified audit opinion on the council's financial books for the 2017-2018 financial year.
"We assessed this aspect of performance as material to the public, given the importance of the consenting function in enabling housing and other development activities," he said.
Making matters worse, Schollum said given the large error rate identified through internal council testing after the issue was raised by his office "we are not satisfied that sufficient testing has been carried out to support reported performance within an acceptable confidence level".
He noted the issue has been exacerbated by high applications volumes, the introduction of the NewCore computer system, clarification on when time should start being recorded, and anticipated significant improvements in future years.
Schollum's final audit report for the 2017-2018 year was presented to council's audit and risk committee today where it was noted. None of the elected and non-elected members of the committee commented on the consenting issue.
The Herald is seeking comment from Goff who promised during the 2016 election campaign an "immediate review to determine how the consenting process can be faster, cheaper and in line with best practice".
Successive Auditor-Generals have warned politicians and council executives about the time it is taking to issue resource consents.
In June, an earlier report by Schollum on the 2017-2018 financial year noted "as in previous years, we could not find effective controls to ensure accuracy of reporting these processing times" for building and resource consents.
He said guidelines issued by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) confirmed that statutory clock start and stop dates were being incorrectly recorded.
When former Auditor-General Lyn Provost reviewed Auckland Council's building control department in 2015 she 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.
In September this year, council's director of regulatory services, Penny Pirrit, acknowledged council was not currently meeting statutory timeframes or delivering the customer service it is striving to achieve.
She was commenting on an independent review of the building consent process that found "customer satisfaction is at an all-time low" with complaints about timeliness, communication and technical issues.
Pirrit said the council was processing record numbers of building consents and working hard to deliver results in a "challenging and high pressure environment".
This year, the council started implementing a "meeting demand programme" to improve workflow management, monitoring and reporting for building consents.
Auckland Council's acting director regulatory services, James Hassall, said the council was focussed on improvements to its consenting processes and had taken on the Deputy Auditor-General's feedback.
"The council is processing around 23,000 consent applications, 160,000 inspections and 15,000 code compliance certificates every year and, in the year to August 2018, almost 13,000 dwellings were consented in Auckland, the highest level of building consents on record.
"These record numbers are combined with consent applications taking longer to process because they are more complicated than ever before.
He said the shift to more medium and higher density developments to accommodate the city's growth meant the number of housing units per consent application had increased by 10 per cent in the last 12 months.
"The council recognises that we are not currently meeting statutory timeframes or delivering the customer service that we are striving to achieve, however we are proactively addressing the issues raised while also preparing for the future demands of Auckland's unprecedented growth.
"We have introduced a 'Meeting Demand Programme', which is well underway, and focuses on dealing with these issues head-on.
"We are always looking to improve our current systems to ensure they can meet the trends of larger volumes of more complex consents. This includes integrating our systems for 95 per cent of our online building services to reduce effort, duplication, and errors by the end of November 2018."