DBH works to speed up Christchurch rebuild

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The Department of Building and Housing is supporting the Christchurch City Council to improve its building consenting processes and its ways of working to meet increased demand as a result of the earthquakes.

The Department undertook a Baseline Assessment review of the council’s consenting process in November 2011.
The review identified a number of areas where building approval processes could be improved, and recommended changes in three key areas: workflow software and information technology, organisational structure and resourcing models, and process efficiencies.

Problems found
Department deputy chief executive sector capability Alison Geddes says a few problems were found with building approval processes, but the council had responded well to the report.
“The two organisations are working together to ensure best practice is achieved,” Ms Geddes says. “An effective and efficient consenting process is critical to the rebuilding of Canterbury.”
The review of the period July to November 2011 found that 30% of consents had taken longer than the statutory 20 working day period to process. But with the recommended changes in place the council is confident that consents will be processed in less time.

Changes include:
• The recruitment of up to 70 new staff over time to help handle demand,
• The creation of a streamlined system which provides a one-stop shop for the processing of all central city earthquake-related consents, and
• The launch of new technology and administration systems to replace outdated software and cut administration times.

Recommendations addressed or implemented
Almost all of the recommendations are in the process of being addressed or implemented. The council has taken steps to change its organisational structure and resourcing models, and is working through its process inefficiencies, including its use of software and information technology.
In response to the Department’s recommendation to improve workflow software, in January this year the council went live with a new document management system.

Build Express enables and accelerates the transfer of consent documents and communication between applicants, consulting engineers and council officers. It allows visibility for customers to see where their consent is in the process at any time, and is ideally suited to large volumes such as those in Canterbury.
Along with Build Express is a package solution known as Pathways — which is used extensively by councils in Australia and New Zealand — that has been selected to replace existing GEMS software, with the target date for first release being September 2012.
The Department’s assessment recommended technical resources to be reorganised. New teams aligned to types of services are now being formed.

‘Free’ pre-application meetings
Another recommended focus is the improvement of consent application quality to reduce processing and rework time, and the instituting of “free” pre-application meetings for commercial work.
There will be no charge for the first half hour of pre-application advice for regulatory services. The council is undertaking a Go Ahead campaign which informs the public about pre-application meetings.
“The Department is confident that the council is now well on the way to implementing a building approval system that has the capacity to cope with the demands of the rebuild,” Ms Geddes says.

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