Crunch time for council

Christchurch city councillors will head into a crisis meeting next week after learning the council is on the brink of losing the power to grant consents.

Yesterday, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee revealed the council was sent a letter from International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) on May 30, which said it had until June 28 to improve its processes or it would be stripped of its accreditation as a building consent authority.

Councillors were unaware of the letter.

Consent processing issues emerged at the council before the earthquakes but the problem has got worse as the city’s rebuild gathers pace and application rates soar.

Brownlee told The Press last night that it was ‘‘utterly appalling’’ councillors had not been told about IANZ’s warning before he published the letter yesterday.

‘‘It shows there’s a culture problem in the council or at least this part of the council. This is very serious and no-one should attempt to downplay it.

‘‘What annoys me a bit here is I’ve been asking about this for some time . . . but I’m continually told everything’s well, everything’s fine.’’

Problems had been identified with the council’s building consent authority during a routine assessment by IANZ in October 2009, and in November last year an audit identified 17 failings in the way the council performed its building control functions.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment had become involved with the council several times since February 2010 to offer support and advice.

‘‘It seems as soon as they walk out, everything falls back into the old ways. At the moment we’re not in a good space,’’ Brownlee said.

Consenting work would fall to other councils if Christchurch did lose its accreditation, he said.

Cr Sue Wells, who chairs the council’s planning committee, said she told council staff last night she expected to be informed of issues ‘‘of that magnitude’’.

She had invited the full council to a special planning committee meeting on Tuesday, which would be open to the public.

‘‘Yes, it’s a nasty surprise that there’s a letter that says these things but the most important thing is that there’s ways to fix these things,’’ she said.

‘‘We had resolved to ask [the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority] for assistance and support. I’m not sure if this was the support we expected to get.’’

Mayor Bob Parker said he was ‘‘surprised to be confronted’’ by Brownlee’s announcement yesterday. ‘‘It appears to me he may not have received all the information we’ve sent to Cera. As far as I’m concerned we’re on track to address all the issues. We will not lose our accreditation.’’

The council was processing 40 consents a day and had about 500 active consents waiting to be processed.

The work had slowed when staff had to learn how to use new software that was brought in on May 27 and there was a national shortage of skilled people who knew New Zealand’s building consent regulations, Parker said.

Christchurch businessman Mark Fleming had been frustrated by the consenting process after having to wait more than the 20-working-day window for council sign-off before he could open his Mrs Higgins Cookies franchise in New Regent St last month.

He believed some businesses could be driven to take their money out of the city if things did not speed up.

‘‘The council seems to have missed the point that we’ve had an earthquake and we’ve got a city to rebuild. There doesn’t seem to be any urgency or difference to consenting time frames or processes [compared to what] there was before the earthquakes.’’


  • The Press
  • Nicole Mathewson

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