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Councils' disgraceful building consent performance

28 July 2006

Councils' disgraceful building consent performance needs reform

A private member's bill which will make all local authorities forgo their charges if they do not process building consents on time deserves cross party backing in a bid to stamp out woefully poor performance by some councils.

The New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development says Hamilton City Council has blazed the way for every other local authority by showing the bill will work.

The Business Council's Chief Executive, Peter Neilson, says Hamilton City has been refunding 100% of fees if it does not meet the 20 day processing time limit for building consents. As a result it has achieved 100 per cent compliance in the past year – and cut its average processing time to just six days.

"It's a magnificent example of what good management and a good service commitment can deliver. There's a great deal of integrity in what Hamilton is doing. It's a far cry from the behaviour of many other councils, nearly half of which have refused in the past to even be audited on their consent processing time performance," Mr Neilson says.

The $10 billion a year building sector needed certainty and, while the RMA set out a specific processing time for local authorities – there was no penalty for not meeting it.

The Business Council supports National MP Hon Dr Nick Smith's private member's bill effort to help lift local authority performance – by making them refund fees if they do not comply with the time rules.

"There is significant anecdotal evidence of business complaints about councils' failure. Some of the bigger councils are the worst performers, but the problem is nationwide. Dr Smith points to the Tasman area, where he says the council recently revealed it fails to meet the time requirement on 69% of applications.

"It's quite clear that where councils get organised and have a real intent to serve their customers and honour the intent of the law, that magnificent things can be done. Hamilton's a winner because it works closely with applicants before the consent is lodged if it can see problems. Why other councils fail to do that and, by implication, actually hinder economic development in their own areas, is hard to understand and even harder to tolerate," Mr Neilson says.

Dr Smith's bill, drawn this week from a ballot for consideration by Parliament, deserves support from all parties.

"The Business Council conducted a year long research project on how the RMA could be reformed and in July 2005 recommended the changes Dr Smith now seeks. In many cases we found it isn't the outcome of the consent process but the time delays in getting decisions which are causing the problem. Perhaps every MP should ask their local council how they are performing before casting a vote on Dr Smith's bill. It wouldn't hurt for all councils to report their performance to their local news media. There should no longer be room to hide or to ignore the law."


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