Swift, nationwide action needed on building consents issues

David Kelly

The Registered Master Builders Association calls for a more nationalised approach to consenting to address New Zealand’s construction challenges, including greater use of sanctions for under-performing councils.

In its submission on the Government’s Building Consent System Review, the Registered Master Builders Association has (RMBA) called for a substantial reduction in the number of consenting authorities, to improve consistency and speed up consent decision-making.

The RMBA has welcomed the review as a vital opportunity to address a “broken” system hampered by a risk-averse approach, inefficiencies, inconsistencies and underinvestment in technology, which are all leading to delays and high costs for home owners and builders.

“These issues are not specific. Some consenting authorities work effectively with our members,” RMBA chief executive David Kelly says.

“But these experiences are inconsistent, and the system is inefficient, and is a barrier to improvements.

“The current fragmentation across 67 consenting authorities is an impediment to efficient investment in technology and people.

“With changes that focus on efficiency, consistency, risk-based approaches, innovation and competition, the consenting system can become an enabler of delivery and innovation, rather than serve as a bottleneck,” Kelly says.

One of the key issues is inconsistency, both within and between local consenting authorities.

The RMBA’s 3000 members across New Zealand have found the process depends on individual officers responsible for consents, and that different processes and standards across authorities create confusion.

While one project may be quickly consented in one area, a similar project in another part of the country can be rejected for reasons that are hard to fathom.

The RMBA also noted the unwillingness of certain consenting authorities to accept alternative materials during recent supply challenges, or to rationalise processes to recognise that some builds are less risky than others.

“We’re calling for the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to exercise its regulatory powers more, to provide greater direction to consenting authorities on how they must interpret regulations.

“This means allowing less scope for discretion and applying sanctions, or even removing consenting accreditation if statutory time frames are exceeded or other performance measures are not being met,” Kelly says.

Some of the key changes the RMBA recommends MBIE should make include:

• consolidating the number of consenting authorities to improve consistency,

• consolidating resource, building and subdivision consents to avoid duplication,

• creating a consistent standards framework with clear KPIs for local authorities,

• requiring investment in technology solutions to reduce workloads and improve processing times,

• streamlining consenting processes to recognise lower-risk projects and builders’ own levels of expertise, and

• allowing greater use of MBIE’s regulatory powers.

The RMBA identified Auckland as an example of an authority that’s starting to see real benefits from changes introduced to streamline its own consenting practices.

However, such improvements haven’t been consistently applied across the country. The RMBA would like to see this become a requirement, and soon.

As the RMBA’s submission noted, delays and inefficient consenting carry exceptional costs, and delay the resolution of the housing crisis.

The RMBA’s recent State of the Sector survey of builders and home owners found that 80% of respondents were impacted by consenting delays, with 45% of builders experiencing consenting delays of five weeks or more.

“New Zealanders can’t wait three years for urgent changes to a system that has been broken for decades. Many of the above recommendations can be implemented without delay.

“While we are supportive of this review, and don’t want to see it rushed or hurried, this doesn’t preclude the Government from quick wins and implementing obvious solutions,” Kelly says.

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