Builders are in a stand-off with the Stratford District Council over a tightening of building consent rules they say are delaying projects.
But, the council has this week defended its stricter guidelines on ground assessments saying they were brought about because of problems with the construction of floors and some buildings in the district with sinking issues.
Builders and developers now need to supply a geotechnical assessment where ground is not considered good by a set of standards based on the national building code.
And those assessments have to be carried out by a professional with a minimum of 10 years experience in geotechnical engineering.
Builders in the town say there are no professionals who fit that requirement in Taranaki and they were having to look to Wellington or Hamilton as the closest alternative.
Some consents, which already had ground and soil assessments done by local engineers,
were held up for as long as four weeks.
Builder and developer Mike Childs said the national building standard rules around ground testing did not work for Stratford's volcanic soils.
"We're all building on organic ash," Childs said.
The managing director at Taranaki engineering firm Red Jacket, Andy Fraser, said the type of testing nationally done on soils would not work because it is designed more for testing sandy soils whereas Stratford's ash soils acted more like clay.
"It's been adapted as a bit of a guide ... for testing the strength of clay but it's completely the wrong test for clay, really, on its own."
Before the new guidelines, local engineers were offering ways of dealing with the volcanic ash, Childs said, and he trusted them.
They typically dug deeper and used piles or they compacted the ground with pit metal before putting concrete footings on top, he said.
"That's what we've been doing, there is nothing wrong with that," Childs said.
Childs had spoken with engineering firms in Auckland that had offered to send their geotechnical engineers down, but that was not what he wanted.
"They're going to come down from Auckland and say 'Oh yeah, your soil's weak'.
"We ... know that, we've been working here for 20 years, 30 years. We know it's weak. It'll never come up to standard."
"The big issue is having to go to a geotechnical engineer to do it," another developer, Eddie Scherrer, said.
Scherrer had his consents on three houses held up for between three and four weeks, but they were released last week.
"If they said you have to go to a structural or a civil engineer, not a problem," Scherrer said.
"There's plenty of those in Taranaki, they're doing it currently."
Andy Fraser is one of them and has been a civil and structural engineer for 40 years.
He said he knew the geotechnical guidelines were coming but the council did not do a good job of preparing builders for the change.
Childs agreed. "They should have given us time to go through and understand what they're trying to enforce, which we in part agree with.
"But they just threw it, gave it to us, said you've got to comply, bang, no consultation."
Childs said the cost of the delays to building would fall on customers.
Fraser said the council did seem to be walking back its requirement over who could perform the geotechnical assessment, with his firm, Red Jacket, this week having some of its reports considered.
The council's director of environmental services, Blair Sutherland, said the council reassessed its building consent guidelines after noticing issues with the construction of floors and sinking buildings.
From this the council found most of the building consents only had shallow test results in their geotechincal assessments.
"The level of information submitted on applications was variable and significantly lower than received by other councils," Sutherland said.
The council had been working with engineers in Taranaki to find a test that would suit local soils, he said, and that could be provided by a wider range of engineers closer to Stratford.
Stratford District Council chief executive Sven Hanne said there were local people who had to deal with problems where buildings had been put on inappropriate ground.
"While council has liability for the first 10 years, the current or future owner is stuck with any defects occurring for decades to come," he said.
He was aware of the criticism of the guidelines but it was important homes were built to "last a lifetime and then some".
"We keep hearing 'but not here in Stratford', however council is dealing with foundation issues quite regularly."
He said the cheapest retrospective repairs to foundations his council had seen in recent years was $20,000, but there had also been a project that cost just short of $100,000 to address sinking foundations.
"In Stratford, geotechnical failure is the most common reason for property owners seeking redress from council."