Consents remain a nightmare

A year after Christchurch’s building consent scandal blew up, the property industry says commercial consents remain ‘‘a nightmare’’, which is costing the city dearly.

While 80 per cent of residential consents are now being issued on time, just a third of commercial consents in the past four months made the required 20-day deadline, largely unchanged from last year.

Industry leaders say the delays are stalling the rebuild and hiking costs, meaning higher rents for tenants.

‘‘It costs the city – time is money,’’ said Property Council spokesman Glenn Taylor. ‘‘Ultimately it gets passed on to the tenant and they have to take the burden.’’

Alan Stewart, director of Calder Stewart Development, said the typical four-to-five month wait for approvals was having a ‘‘major impact’’ on their business. It also meant uncertainty and extra costs to tenants.

‘‘We have great difficulty planning and managing staff. It’s inflationary – we probably should cost it, but I think it would scare the hell out of us.’’

Christchurch City Council has not yet regained its full consenting powers, which were removed last year in a crisis leading to the resignation of chief executive Tony Marryatt. International Accreditation New Zealand’s final report on the troubled operation this month listed 17 fixes still needed.

Property developer Richard Peebles described the consent process as ‘‘a nightmare’’, ‘‘frustrating’’ and ‘‘bloody awful’’.

‘‘Nothing has changed. It’s a massive cost in terms of money and uncertainty when you’re dealing with tenants.’’

Other industry figures expressing serious concerns to The Press wanted anonymity for fear of prejudicing consent bids.

‘‘We’ve had bad experiences, and it’s not getting any better,’’ said a development company head. One ‘‘simple strengthening’’ application had taken six months, and when two council staff in one discipline took leave ‘‘everything just came to a grinding halt’’.

He blamed lack of resources and departments not communicating.

A development consultant said the council needed a customercentric focus, ‘‘but when you’ve got a monopoly you can’t get traction on that’’. The promised transformation had not happened, and the department ‘‘still had a long way to go’’ to change its culture.

Another developer criticised the prevailing ‘‘council mentality’’.

‘‘We can’t take our business elsewhere. Their attitude is ‘you need us, and too bad’.’’

Peebles said his consents were taking an average three to six months – the slowest was 11 months for a small office building.

He believed the problems were not all the council’s fault and staff were trying ‘‘very, very hard’’.

‘‘I don’t think it’s actually possible for them to comply with the statutory requirements – they have to go through everything with a fine-tooth comb, with 20 days to do it.’’

Fellow developer Richard Diver was also sympathetic, but said staff ‘‘could be more helpful’’.

Crown manager Doug Martin, installed a year ago on $2000 a day to fix the consenting mess, referred The Press’s questions to council building control and rebuild director Peter Sparrow.

Sparrow acknowledged the validity of the industry concerns, but believed matters were improving. He agreed the speed of commercial consents should be ‘‘much much’’ better, and that a change of staff culture was needed. ‘‘But it will take time to turn that around’’.


  • The Press
  • Liz McDonald

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