Issues surrounding Central Hawke's Bay District Council's building consent authority have reached boiling point.

Councillor Andy Watts has called into question the independence, or lack thereof, of the upcoming inquiry into the authority. The audit is being headed up by Morrison Low, of whom the council is a client.

Addressing the finance committee, council chief executive John Freeman said the audit was a result of a "number of complaints in confidence" around the way the authority was functioning.

"As a result of this, Mayor Peter Butler sent a letter asking community to present its views on the performance of the [authority]," he said. By the end of last year, the council had received 50 replies - 40 of those criticising the council department.


Mr Freeman said following those replies it was decided to carry out an "independent review" of the authority "to see how it sits in relation to meeting its statutory obligations, customer satisfaction and how it related to neighbouring councils."

During debate, Mr Watts read out part of a memo issued by Mr Freeman: "It appears ... that the process has been hijacked and an auditor appointed without reference to the sub-committee or the approval of the full council."

Mr Watts said Mr Freeman's memo went so far as to state: "Morrison Low are aware of the political drive behind the review of the BCA, contractually they would work directly with John F as the client, and bring any councillor requests back to me for consideration prior to commencing that work.

"They are currently working with the council on asset management so are happy to work under the same terms and conditions for this work."

Mr Watts said this was "totally unacceptable".

"The audit must be undertaken by an independent body who does not have an existing financial relationship with the council," he said.

"Furthermore, to suggest that the chief executive officer is their 'client', not the council, and that he should have any degree of control or influence over the audit or councillors' queries is outrageous and patently inappropriate."

Mr Watts also questions what confidence the public can have in the so-called "independent" audit process that is effectively being run by the person who oversees the authority.

Councillor Terry Story also raised concerns in a reply to an email, attached to Mr Watts' speech, sent out by Mr Freeman informing councillors of the audit. Mr Story asked which committee members had made the decision - to which Mr Freeman responded that it was himself, Mayor Peter Butler and Councillor Mark Williams.

Mr Story said when the six councillors elected the sub-committee, they did so with the understanding that the subject matter would be driven by the four sub-committee members and then presented to council.

"In turn the C.E. [sic] was to action from that point. I am disappointed that the process as agreed was changed," he wrote.

The authority sub-committee was originally made up of four members - Mr Watts was absent from the meeting and Mr Story stood down from it due to a conflict of interest.