Little used alternative pathways to gain building consents could make a big difference — with some tweaks


EasyBuild director Mike Fox reveals a couple of alternative building consent application options that might help builders speed up the process.

With timelines for building consents at many local councils consistently dragging on beyond 20 days, and the number of inane and time-buying Requests for Information (RFIs) that now come through with each job lodged growing by the day, it’s safe to say we all suffer through a bureaucratic nightmare with every project.

It’s well worth considering alternative consent application options to help with quicker lodgement and faster processing of your building consents, so you can spend more time on the job and, ideally, less time pandering to the demands of your local council.

There are two alternative pathways to getting a building consent which can significantly reduce the difficulties of applying for, and receiving, a standard building consent.

They are either using a Codemark Certificate or gaining a MultiProof approval statement or certificate from the MBIE.

Codemark is a product certification scheme for building products and methods, and you can Codemark your building system so that it meets the Building Code.

MultiProof is a statement or certificate from the MBIE that a set of plans and specifications for a building meets the Building Code.

What’s so special about that you might ask? The most compelling reason is that Building Consent Authorities (BCAs) must accept those certificates that your designs meet the code, and cannot ask you inane questions to slow the consent process down — although they may still try!

It is interesting to note that the country’s largest home builder, namely Kainga Ora (formerly Housing NZ), has opted to create its own BCA to manage its own consents.

One can only assume it has done this in a deliberate attempt to bypass the frustrations and delays of dealing with 69 different local authorities across New Zealand.

The pathway I am going to discuss in more detail is the MultiProof because I have many years of personal experience with it, having applied for more than 150 MultiProof building consents.

It is also the pathway that is most attainable to builders, and one that, with some small tweaks, could really make a difference. 

So exactly how does it work?

MultiProof establishes that a design complies with the New Zealand Building Code. When your building consent application includes a MultiProof certificate, the BCA must grant or refuse it within 10 working days instead of the usual 20 days.

Under a MultiProof application, the BCA gets to check your siting, drains and foundations, and only if they happen to be a specific design.

The Building Consent Authority (BCA) confirms and establishes:

• the design, with any permitted variations, is the same as the design approved in the MultiProof,
• the proposed site meets the conditions of the MultiProof,
• the site-specific features of the design comply with the Building Code, and
• the inspections required.

MultiProof is beneficial for those who:

• build or intend to build a number of similar designs,
• use standard construction details for a range of
similar buildings,
• want to save time when applying for a building consent,
• need consistency when applying for building consents to different BCAs across the country,
• can build the approved design at least 10 times in a two- year period, and
• want lower consent fees, as the work required by the BCA is significantly reduced. Do not forget to ask for fee reductions as they are often not freely offered.

MultiProof has many benefits, especially at this current time when housing demand is at an all-time high.

It can provide builders and designers with economies of scale and certainty for larger or similar builds.

However, applications to the MBIE for MultiProof certificates are lower than would be expected, which suggests there’s still an opportunity to make better use of the system, and that there might be some inherent factors holding back full utilisation of this alternative.

Speaking from experience, the MultiProof system is a great initiative, and dealing with the MBIE when applying for them is a good experience.

The MultiProof application process reminds me of a time when local authorities used to be helpful and actually wanted projects to proceed.

The biggest road blocks to the MultiProof system are lack of flexibility for minor amendments, and the varying BCA ability and attitude to administering them.

Differing BCA attitudes to Multiproof

You would think that BCAs would welcome a system such as MultiProof, where the risk for the BCA is greatly diminished by the MBIE confirming the documents meet the code.

Some BCAs welcome it with open arms but, believe me, others see it as a major affront to their authority.

The latter do their darndest to find some small variation or technicality to flip the application back into their all-controlling standard consent process.

This doubles the time to approve the consent, enabling the BCA to feel good about firing off RFIs and doing high fives when they find holes in the work that the MBIE has already approved.

Other BCAs are not even aware of the MultiProof system, and then freeze when one arrives at their door.

Lack of flexibility and varying forms of administration by BCAs

One of the problems with the MultiProof system is the lack of flexibility, and the differing ways BCAs administer the consent applications.

I think there has been an unintended disconnect between the users of MultiProof and the MBIE on what is actually happening at the commercial coal face.

The users and potential users identify that with the use of MultiProof, minor variations are invariably made to the majority of MultiProof plans that go through for consents.

These minor variations have no material impact on the consent or the integrity of its detailing.

However, BCAs often use these minor variations as a way to derail the MultiProof process

The natural industry and consumer need for minor variations or customisation to MultiProofs has resulted in complex workarounds by builders and designers to keep the BCAs from reverting the applications to full-on consents. Not an ideal or efficient scenario.

Even when MultiProofs have a note allowing minor variations included on the certificates, BCAs still struggle to use the required discretion to approve them.

These workarounds to preserve a MultiProof consent application are cumbersome and surely not what was intended to happen under the legislation, which presumed a degree of pragmatism when dealing with minor variations.

However, as pragmatism is in short supply, clarity and leadership is now required.

So how can we tweak the MultiProof system to be completely fit for purpose?

It has all the right intentions and, if freed up, could be a game changer for processing consents more consistently, more quickly, and more affordably.

There are two actions the MBIE could easily take which would result in the current system becoming unblocked and, thus, attract many more users:

• Defining minor customisation

Back in 2010 when MultiProof was passed into law, Clause 402(1)c in the Building Act specified:

“Defining the minor customisation that may be made to the plans and specifications in relation to which a national multiple use approval has been issued when incorporating these plans and specifications into a consent.”

The issue at hand is that the MBIE has never got around to defining what the definition of a minor customisation is, although they can simply do this by writing the regulation.

If the MBIE can write this, using 10 years of actual industry experience and frustration as a guide, many frustrations would dissipate, and the first part of the problem would be solved.

• Education and training for BCAs

Once the definition mentioned above is written, the MBIE needs to provide BCAs with thorough education and training on the full MultiProof process so that they can understand, work with the definitions, and embrace the many benefits of the MultiProof system.

Ultimately, this will result in happier customers, approval of more projects, and for everyone to experience less hassle and frustration.

Significant productivity gains for the industry can be easily attained by grabbing this low hanging fruit to improve the MultiProof process — for builders and BCAs.

If the MBIE could make these changes by the end of 2021, wouldn’t that be an outstanding Christmas gift to New Zealand’s construction industry?

• This article contains the author’s opinion only, and is not necessarily the opinion of the Registered Master Builders Association, its chief executive or staff.

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