Speeding up the consents process

Friday 6 October 2017

Inefficient consent processes nationwide have long been cited as a major hurdle to development, but the drive to improve the consent process is finally making headway.

By Miriam Bell

Stories of nightmare consent application processes – often involving labyrinthine dealings with council or “surprise” discoveries which have blown out costs and timeframes – abound.

But, as the focus on New Zealand’s housing supply shortage has grown, the slow and cumbersome processes involved in getting building consents have gained increasing prominence.

A host of taskforces and experts have made it clear that consent processes at councils around the country have to be streamlined and improved in order for supply problems to be addressed.

Now, it seems those calls have been heeded and the drive to tackle the problem is gathering speed.

This week saw the launch of GoShift, an aligned, online consents building process which 20 councils from Western Bay of Plenty to Nelson have signed up to.

Supported by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, GoShift aims to improve performance, consistency and service delivery across the building consent system nationwide.

Property Council chief executive Connal Townsend said that to date owners, investors, developers and builders have struggled with navigating differing documentation, processes and timeframes dependant on where they are building.

This takes time, adds cost and is frustrating which all deters home owners and developers from improving their homes and building new ones, he said.

“GoShift not only provides a simple, streamlined process for builders and developers, but it represents an attitude of collaboration between councils.

“Standardised processes and systems will make participating cities more attractive to investors, as a consistent system removes the risk and time to navigate an unfamiliar process.”

Townsend said it would give developers and investors assurance that they are engaging with best-practice processes and standards whether they’re building in the Bay of Plenty, Nelson or in between.

“This will make investing in new regional areas more palatable and less risky and will benefit smaller regional cities and towns.”

Wellington City Council has been one of the leaders in the GoShift initiative and this week it had a related announcement on its own building consents process.

Building consents in Wellington can now be handled through a streamlined online application portal and service

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester said the goal of simplifying their building consents process was something the council had been pursuing for some time.

The simple, easy to use online portal will allow people to track their applications and make the process easier, he said.

“This is going to be an enormous win for Wellington – it will make it easier to do business in the city, and take a big hassle out of building new homes.

“For a council focused on affordable housing and boosting economic growth, this is a no-brainer.”

The introduction of the services comes after a successful trial involving six other councils, which Lester said garnered very positive public feedback.

Wellington Council is already using the new standardised building consent application forms and the online service is the next stage in the initiative.

Standardised processing checklists have been developed and, in the future, inspection checklists will also be standardised and there will be a single, best practice quality management system.

Meanwhile, in Auckland – which is struggling with a particularly big housing supply shortage – the council’s building consents process has also seen some improvement.

Since July this year, it has been possible for people to lodge a consent application and then go through the consent process online.

Prominent Auckland property developer David Whitburn said this is a welcome advance in streamlining a consent process which has, traditionally, been very slow and painful.

But the new system is still a bit convoluted and seems to be having some teething problems, he said.

“Rather than everything being done online, which is easier and more efficient, all too often people are being asked to submit plans on A2 paper and to get them couriered over to the council.

“There is plenty of software out there to deal with everything in electronic form and it should be the norm for the consents process to be fully online.”

In Whitburn’s view, the council needs to put more resources and staff training into the new system to get it working at its optimum level.

“It is definitely an improvement though and one which should benefit everyone from developers to investors to home owners.”

Read more:

Radical reform for Wellington housing 

Taskforce reveals way forward for Auckland 

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