Council planning department under pump


A perfect storm of huge workloads, heavyweight resignations and cut-throat battles for new staff is causing chaos at Queenstown’s council.

Its planning department is creaking under the pressure of boom-time in the resort.

Resource and building consent applications have both soared as developers, businesses and property owners scramble to make hay.

Building services manager Peter Laurenson has resigned along with his number two, the building control supervisor, and two fixed-term admin staff.

That’s left the council itself scrambling - forcing it to use contractors and staff from other councils.

Finding replacements and filling other vacancies is proving difficult.

Council boss Adam Feeley says: “Staff shortages in resource and building consenting are a major problem for all local authorities, particularly those like Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown which are experiencing huge growth in the building markets.

“Not only are local authorities competing against each other for scarce skills, we are competing with the private sector - planning firms, developers, etc - who may in many instances offer higher salaries.

“Queenstown’s challenge is further exacerbated by our high cost of living relative to many other centres, Auckland excluded.”

Feeley, however, rejects the notion the squeeze was as a result of bringing Lakes Environmental Ltd in-house in 2013, saying there were no redundancies in that department and staff hours have increased since then.

In August alone, 103 resource consent applications were processed.

That’s up from 78 in the same month last year – a 32 per cent increase that saw the number processed within the statutory timeframe drop below 100 per cent for the first time in more than a year.

It went down to 98 per cent processed within 20 days.

Building consent applications are also at a high - 136 compared with 119 last August.

Average processing time has increased from 11 working days to 13. And building inspection requests have increased too.

Feeley says the resignations haven’t helped.

“Yes, of course it is a blow to get two resignations at the same time.

“One had been signalled for some time, and it was my expectation that there would be good forward planning around recruitment. One was not expected.

“However both have reasonably long lead times for recruitment, so I am hopeful that we can have replacements with minimum if any disruption.”

The council is advertising five building department jobs and has recently appointed one new staffer.