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Solid public support for timely building consents

Solid public support to make councils issue building consents on time

MPs will enjoy solid support from the public and especially business decision makers if they back a private members' bill which aims to make councils issue building consents on time, or refund fees.

A nationwide survey of members of the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development's new ShapeNZ online panel, shows 63% support the bill, due to be have its first reading this Wednesday (August 23). Support rises to 68% among business proprietors and self employed, and to 77% among business managers and executives.

Some political party caucuses are understood to be deciding their positions on National MP Hon Dr Nick Smith's bill on Tuesday (22 August).

The ShapeNZ survey, covering 418 respondents nationwide between August 9 and 18, reveals that 16% (65 respondents) had lodged a building consent application in the previous year. Of these, 32 had waited more than the 20 days provided in law for consent decisions to be made. Some 11% of respondents who had lodged an application waited more than 40 working days.

The Business Council, whose members' annual sales of more than $33 billion equate to 28% of the country's gross domestic product, says councils' performance needs to improve to give people certainty. It says Hamilton City Council has provided a shining example for the past three years by offering to process within time or refund. As a result it has achieved 100% per cent compliance in the past year and cut its average processing time to just six days.

Business Council Chief Executive Peter Neilson says the problem does not involve all councils, but the building industry and its customers deserve good service from every council. In the past many had refused an Audit Office request to report on their performance and there was currently no penalty for breaking the 20 working day law.

The ShapeNZ survey finds 23% of those who have applied for a consent in the past year rate their council's performance as good,17% rate it very good and 17% excellent (17%).

Some 28% rate performance as poor.

Panel members also provided information on their experiences both as applicants and building consent administrators.

Of 408 respondents making comment, 28% believe the private members bill is needed to improve council efficiency; 21% to give more certainty and allow people to plan, and 20% to "force councils to comply and take accountability".

Asked what the disadvantages of the bill might be, 28% cited a possible rise in council rates or drop in their revenue; 25% say decision quality could suffer if consents are hurried; and 16% say the proposed penalty will put unreasonable pressure, stress and demands on already under resourced councils.

Building consent administrators say they are in a "constant battle with architects" who are not up to speed with the consent process or who submit incomplete applications.

Mr Neilson says it will be poor form to allow the inefficiency of some local authorities to continue.

"While rates are rising substantially, it's a bad time for MPs to sanction continuing inefficient performance. We think every MP should discover their local councils' record before voting on the bill. And the parties should allow the bill to go to a select committee so the issues raised by applicants and consent administrators can be properly addressed."

The ShapeNZ panel has been set up to allow New Zealanders a chance to help shape policy advice the Business Council provides to Government and other decision makers. It has attracted 951 members at www.shapenz.org.nz in its first three weeks and aims to have more than 10,000 members by the end of this year.


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