Part 8: Improving service performance

Auckland Council: How it deals with building consents.

In this Part, we look at what Auckland Council is doing and plans to do, to improve how Building Control does its job.

Improving how Building Control does its job can take on several dimensions, including:

  • speeding up the processing of consent applications, using risk and the type of consent application as determinants;
  • using technology better;
  • forming better relationships with customers, including specific arrangements with large or targeted service users;
  • carrying out inspections more efficiently;
  • training technical staff better;
  • providing assurance about work quality; and
  • making the process easier for users.

What happens in the lead-up to a consent application

Pre-application meetings between prospective applicants and Building Control officers are designed to remove difficulties and better explain the consent application process, particularly for novice applicants or for complicated commercial and residential developments.

An intended benefit of the pre-application meetings is to avoid or pre-empt problems that would otherwise arise in the statutory processing period after an application has been formally lodged.

Risk-based consent

Auckland Council has four main risk-based consenting initiatives.

The Standard Dwelling Partnership programme

Auckland Council invites building companies to participate in a Standard Dwelling Partnership and to sign a memorandum of understanding. So far, eight companies have signed up. Under the programme, Building Control seeks to grant consents within five days for "standard" dwellings.

Terraced Housing initiative

The aim of the Terraced Housing initiative is to have no RFIs and to issue a consent within 10 days. This has recently been piloted.

Same-day consent service

The same-day consent service is for a few specific types of consent application, such as fireplaces and standalone garages.

Consent exemption process for major public works project

The consent exemption process for major public works is being trialled for the New Zealand Transport Agency's Waterview project.9 Because of the complexity of this project, Auckland Council entered into a charter agreement with the New Zealand Transport Agency. Under the agreement, Auckland Council, through an engaged engineer, audits work on Waterview project structures that have a public interface. Other core infrastructure work has a consent exemption provided for under the Act. The agreement outlines the respective roles of the parties. This approach avoids the numerous building consents that otherwise might be required, with potential delays to the project as a result.

The charter agreement is seen as a national precedent for other similar projects.

Electronic lodgement of consent applications

NewCore will incorporate electronic lodgement, but is not expected to be fully operational until 2017. In the meantime, Building Control is putting forward a business case for early electronic lodgement of consents and is looking at other local authorities that use or are about to use electronic lodgement. Three options are currently being looked at, with significant progress expected by mid-2015.

Inspection initiatives

Electronic mobile tablets are being progressively introduced for use by inspectors in the field. Auckland Council expects this to result in a boost to productivity.

Builders App is an application that has been developed to allow builders on-site to transmit requests for inspections.

Reducing the number of inspections is being trialled with several building companies. Auckland Council expects that a typical dwelling would have no more than four inspections.

Our observations about initiatives to improve service performance

Pre-application meetings

The number of pre-application meetings appears to be lower than we expected, considering the positive customer feedback from those who participated in them (68% satisfaction). In the 11 months to May 2014, only 259 pre-application meetings had been held, and most were at Auckland Council's central office.

Architectural firms told us that they appreciated the value of pre-application meetings but observed that, sometimes, the subsequent Building Control staff they dealt with were not the same as the staff at the pre-application meeting. Also, different staff members answered their questions differently.

We consider that Auckland Council could do more to encourage pre-application meetings, perhaps by using website promotions, newsletters, and financial incentives.

Risk-based consenting

We consider that Auckland Council has good risk-based consenting initiatives. These initiatives are in their early stages but will become more important when fast-tracking for Special Housing Areas leads to construction. It is likely that major building developers will be heavily involved in Special Housing Areas and that the mix of housing will include terraced and/or low-cost standard housing.

These initiatives will need to be consolidated and spread throughout Building Control's work in the light of expected increases in consent numbers and more standardised, pre-fabricated, and pre-built housing.

Inspection initiatives

Recording inspections on an electronic tablet should improve efficiency. Over time, this could also have additional benefits, with details of inspections to be carried out the next day sent directly to inspectors' tablets. This would remove the need for inspectors to go into their base office every morning. It will also help to more efficiently allocate work to inspectors. It will also be possible to discuss work that is being inspected with other inspectors to resolve problems and queries in real time on Skype. In our view, it is unfortunate that the introduction of the tablets was delayed.

Electronic lodgement of consent applications

The business case for this proposed initiative appears to be compelling. Auckland Council estimates that it will save an average of one hour when processing a consent application and will avoid the need to scan hard copies. The typical officer charge-out rate is $135-$177 an hour, so saving time has significant cost implications. Putting the initiative into effect will also save on the costs of moving and storing large volumes of paper. Also, it will benefit applicants, who will not have to print additional copies. One estimate is that it will save $3.5 million a year in printing costs for applicants.

9: The Waterview project is the country's largest roading project. The project will build a partially underground motorway to join State Highways 16 and 28.

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