Council consents hit new low


Queenstown council’s planning boss Tony Avery says there’s a risk his building department could be stripped of its main powers in two weeks.

That’s when Crown auditor IANZ will assess progress on an action plan to tackle huge problems in the department.

IANZ - International Accreditation New Zealand - accepted the plan in late May.

This week, it’s been revealed less than a third of building consents were issued within the statutory time-frame that month.

Avery says there’s “still certainly a risk” that IANZ could remove the council’s accreditation after its July 15 check, stopping the department issuing consents.

“We remain concerned,” he says.

“We’re not underplaying that risk. We’re confident at this stage, but there is still a risk and it’s up to IANZ when they do that assessment.”

IANZ identified 10 corrective actions and four “strong recommendations” to fix the department, as it struggles to cope with the housing boom.

Its assessment had identified systemic problems, including holes in record-keeping, issuing code compliance certificates without evidence, and slow processing times.

Avery says: “We’re working pretty hard on all the corrective actions. Unfortunately that’s impacting on our ability to deal with our consenting load.”

He adds: “We knew the situation might get worse before it starts to get better.”

It’s all hands on deck - admin staff are checking applications and processing the simpler ones.

Four external consultants have been contracted to process consents, bringing the total to 12.

Staff are also working overtime.

“There’s a lot of pressure on everyone at the moment.”

Avery was appointed full time in February, when the department was already in a mess.

He’s appointed staff to replace others who had left, bringing the department numbers back to 20.

And in the council’s annual plan he’s been given approval to sign six more.

Recruitment is difficult, though, building services manager Stewart Geddes says, with a nationwide shortage of qualified people who are also sought by other councils.

Geddes says the knock-on effect of recruitment issues on processing times is something IANZ requires the department to address as a condition of retaining the accreditation.

He thinks June figures will show an improvement.

IANZ will complete a full assessment in October.

There are also delays in issuing code compliance certificates on new builds.

Tane Tawera, Queenstown branch manager for Mike Greer Homes, says the delays are causing problems for clients of building firms across the district, with longer build times.

Tawera says: “It can put people in a tough position - for example if they have arrangements with landlords to move out, or paying both a mortgage and rent for longer.”

IANZ chief executive Dr Llewellyn Richard declined to comment while the process is ongoing.