Rapid growth in building activity has councils around the region under the pump as building control staff struggle to keep up with demand.
Whanganui District Council planning and regulatory group manager Hamish Lampp said there was a real strain on council resources as "building activity since the post-2020 Covid-19 emergency continues at a level most likely never before seen in Whanganui".
"The council is considering options for additional resourcing in its building team, as well as exploring other ways to increase process efficiencies, including an online inspections app with remote inspection capability," Lampp said.
"Council has recently engaged an external contractor to assist with building consent processing and hopes to have another engaged next week.
"In the meantime, we ask local project managers to factor in longer-than-usual inspection timeframes to their workflow planning, an unfortunate consequence of a nationwide building boom."
In 2020 the council issued 146 consents for new dwellings, compared with 116 in 2019. There's been an increase of 160.7 per cent in new dwelling consents issued in the period from 2013 (when there were 56 consents) to 2020.
South Taranaki District Council environmental services group manager Liam Dagg said a surge in building consent activity in the district last year was continuing into 2021.
"The demand picked up quite rapidly straight after the Christmas break, probably reflecting the trends we saw towards the end of last year where new houses formed quite a reasonable proportion of consents coming through the door."
In 2020 the council issued 96 consents for new residential builds, up from 59 in 2019. For new subdivisions, there were 84 applications for 138 new lots in 2020, compared with 59 applications for 77 lots in 2019.
Many of the building consent applications were for the Hāwera urban area, with Opunake also experiencing strong growth, but there was "a volume of work across our town centres", Dagg said.
"The building sector across the board, irrespective of which side of the fence you're on, are under the pump."
Dagg said councils were experiencing capacity issues in the building area. In late 2020 South Taranaki had to issue a notice that there would be delays in processing building consents and was playing catch-up.
The delay was due in part to resourcing issues and the council was in a phase of "resourcing up", Dagg said.
However, it was extremely difficult to recruit staff in the building sector, he said.
"Trying to attract people into the role then the expectations around the capability requirements set by regulations are a challenge. So you might have them in a seat but then you lose them for a couple of weeks through the course of the year through block courses, training and oversight and supervision. It's not a push-play scenario at all."
The council's current building control officers were "off the tools" but it was difficult to recruit anyone in the building industry at the moment, so the council was relying on transferable skills from other sectors in the people it was interviewing, Dagg said.
Ruapehu District Council launched its online building consent system this month and has already had 29 applications through the portal, building control manager Bryan Jacobsen said.
"They're mostly new builds - mostly dwellings - and relocates," Jacobsen said.
"Ohakune is where most of the work is happening and in National Park. They tend to be holiday homes, not permanent residences."
People from places such as Auckland, Wellington and New Plymouth were lodging consents for holiday homes for the ski season, he said.
Ruapehu currently has a full quota of building control staff but Jacobsen said even five or six years ago it had been difficult to recruit staff.
"There's a shortage - everyone is looking for people but there's not the people with qualifications out there," he said.
"Even if you get them, there's the expense in training and you have to buddy up for a while."
Jacobsen said the sector would be under additional pressure in the next few years as qualified inspectors retired.
"I'm at retiring age and a lot of others around the country are due to retire in the next year or two," he said.
The Building Officials Institute of New Zealand (BOINZ) had tried to get more cadets but young people tended to be more interested in doing a trade than being an inspector, Jacobsen said.
Rangitīkei District Council is also trying to recruit additional staff to cope with the increased demand on building control and is warning of possible delays in processing building consents.
"Council's major consenting subcontractor in this area has announced that while they will continue to accept building consents for processing, they cannot commit to meeting the 20-working-day timeframe but will keep trying their best to do so.
"There will now be at least a two-week lead-in time for any building inspections. There are also delays in the processing of consents, so until further notice our building team will not be doing inspections on Wednesdays or Fridays, to allow them time to undertake the required processing work."