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Opinion: the true cost of building consents

Published: 22 May 2018
Penny Pirrit
Penny Pirrit, Director Regulatory Services

In an opinion piece in the NZ Herald last weekestate agency manager Paul Lochore criticised the costs relating to building and resource consents. Penny Pirrit, Auckland Council's Director Regulatory Services, sets the record straight.

Auckland Council is more than happy to share information about the costs associated with ensuring that Aucklanders live and work in safe buildings that meet the regulatory requirements of central government’s Building Act.

We also welcome the opportunity to correct some of the misinformation in Mr Lochore’s article, such as the statement that it takes two years on average to get a building consent processed through the council.

As with many types of applications, we are totally reliant on the quality of information provided by the applicant. We assess plans and specifications in consent applications to ensure the proposed building work will comply with the Building Code. When we are satisfied that these meet the requirements, we issue a building consent for the work to proceed.

For the average application, where all paperwork is in order, it takes 17 statutory days for consent to be issued.

To provide context, annually Auckland Council processes more than 23,000 consents and undertakes more than 132,000 building inspections. We acknowledge that we are having difficulties finding and retaining people in a buoyant market but we are working hard to ensure we meet the needs of our customers.

Those who work in building consents are highly regarded specialists in their area, with considerable expertise in advising and interpreting laws and standards. It is their work that guarantees Auckland’s buildings meet the rigorous – and necessary – standards that control the construction of buildings.

Rather than being a gravy train, as opined by Mr Lochore, local authority building fees are a user-pays service; this is far from being a money-making scheme. Building fees are charged to those that are building, as opposed to being funded by the ratepayer.

Interestingly, research conducted by Beacon and the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research in 2015 showed construction as the largest expense in the building process (51 per cent). In comparison, council consenting costs were estimated at 4 per cent of the total cost.

Without knowing the address or specific circumstances of Mr Lochore’s young relative, we cannot provide an exact breakdown of the $69,000 allegedly spent in consent fees. However, our building consent fees are set out quite clearly on the Auckland Council website and are a fraction of the sum Mr Lochore claims.

It is our belief that the $69,000 Mr Lochore refers to is the contribution to paying for the new or upgraded infrastructure required to service the new dwelling through Development Contributions (DCs) and Infrastructure Growth Charges (IGCs). Every new dwelling added to the city puts additional pressure on water infrastructure, roads, parks and other amenities. These charges ensure that the general ratepayer does not pay.

Once the building work is completed and it complies with the consented plans, inspections have been carried out and all necessary certificates have been supplied, then we will issue a Code Compliance Certificate (CCC), which confirms that all the requirements of the Building Code have been met.

Auckland Council has been working hard to improve its performance in this area and is pleased to report that 95 per cent of CCCs are issued within 20 statutory days. Clearly that leaves around 5 per cent that are outliers, and I appreciate the frustrations that come with delays. Typically, these are situations where we haven’t been provided with the correct information and processing has been put on hold while we wait for it.

Gaining a Code Compliance Certificate is the end of the building process and is a signal to those living in the house, lenders and future buyers that the property has been built in accordance with the Building Code.

You can live in a house without a CCC being issued and, in fact, some people never get a CCC – although that is rare given that it is a key mortgage requirement.

Our building consent process is not perfect. We always have room to improve and are very interested in hearing of less-than-satisfactory customer experiences so we can continue to develop. The building process is a partnership and if we are supplied with quality information then it is often a fast and straightforward experience. With this in mind we would welcome Mr Lochore’s relative contacting us to discuss the circumstances of his Code Compliance Certificate.