High Court Decision on Consents Welcomed
27 March 2006
Selwyn District Welcomes High Court Decision on Building Consents
Selwyn District Council has welcomed the decision by the High Court’s Justice Chisholm to dismiss an application for a mandamus order that would have forced the Council to issue building consents within a shorter timeframe than it can manage.
“This is an immense relief to us, as the implications for Selwyn and other councils in a similar position were potentially devastating,” said the Council’s Chief Executive, Paul Davey.
For the past two years, the Council has struggled to rein in a backlog of building consent applications created by the district’s surging growth rate of nearly three percent per annum.
Despite taking on new staff and streamlining its procedures, the Council’s consent processing times have increased from the statutory limit of 20 working days to around 60 working days.
This led one applicant to apply to the High Court for an order of mandamus which would have required the Council to issue the applicant’s backlogged building consent forthwith.
In delivering his decision, Justice Chisholm rejected the applicant’s charge that the Council’s attitude was “cavalier” and accepted “that the Council is facing genuine problems in complying with its statutory obligations which are largely beyond its control, at this stage at least.”
Referring to a similar case in England, he said that an order for mandamus should not be granted when “there is evidence that a local authority is doing all that it honestly and honourably can to meet the statutory obligation” and where such an order would compel the Council to do “that which either it cannot do or which it can only do at the expense of other persons.”
His decision to dismiss the case was conditional on the Council speeding up the delivery of the applicant’s building consent - a condition which Justice Chisholm warned should not be interpreted by others as a precedent.
His said that a significant element in the decision had been the “floodgates factor” - the potential for a flood of copycat mandamus orders to compound rather than resolve the Council’s building consent problems. He said this factor was also likely to “play a significant role” if other people were tempted to issue mandamus proceedings.
Finally, the judge urged the Council to continue being proactive in its efforts to address the consent backlog and delays. He said that, while he was satisfied that the Council is acting honourably and reasonably in its efforts to bring the problem under control, this argument will not hold water indefinitely if the consent situation does not improve.
In welcoming the decision, Mr Davey said that the Court clearly recognises that Council staff are acting responsibly and endorses the Council’s actions to date.
“Nonetheless, we also take on board his concern that we remain proactive,” said Mr Davey. “We are very aware of the inconvenience and frustration that this situation is causing our consent applicants and we will continue to do everything we can to improve consent delivery times without sacrificing quality.”