THE INSPECTOR MAY CALL - BUT WE CAN'T SAY WHEN
By Richard Harman (author)
MPs today heard a revealing account of antiquated systems within the Auckland Council’s Building Control Department.
The Department --- which deals with over 17,000 applications for building consents a year – does most of its work on paper.
Sarah Lineham, Sector Manager, Local Government at the Office of the Auditor General told Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure Committee that the Council used approximately $3.5 million of paper in the building consents department because only a few applications were handled online.
She was being questioned on a report on the Auckland Council’s handling of Building Consents which said that the reliance on paper within the department meant that staff spent 6000 hours a year simply scanning application documents.
Two copies of each application were required.
“This means extensive physical handling – Auckland Council’s central office resembles a postal sorting centre,” the report said.
It said staff at one architectural firm estimated that they used two kilometres of A1-size paper a month, much of it for building consent applications.
Even so, the Council managed to approve 80% of the applications it received within 40 working days.
Interestingly the 73% of the consents were for building alterations; 25% for new residential construction and only 2% for new commercial construction.
The department had a staff of 84 building inspectors who averaged “0.85” of a consent per day.
But the work of the inspectors was questioned by Greens Co-Leader Russel Norman.
He referred to the Auditor’s Report showing that Building Inspectors were not specific about what time they would turn up on a building site and simply said they would be there in the morning or afternoon.
”Why don’t they make a time like everybody else in their life?” asked Mr Norman.
“Because you say I’ll meet you at e 10 o’clock rather than I’ll meet you in the morning.”
Ms Lineham said part of the problem was that the Inspectors had to come into the office and get lists of what sites they were supposed to inspect.
But things might change now the Council was introducing electronic tablets for the inspectors.
Mr Norman said the practice also meant that building contractors had to have sub-contractors on site for a whole afternoon waiting for the Inspector to turn up.
“Does the Council get that?” he asked.
“I think they do,” said Ms Lineham.
Labour MP Phil Twyford tried to get the Audit Office team at the Committee to comment on National’s Special Housing Areas.
This didn’t work.
Ms Lineham told him that there was no data available and because of the time frame of when her report was done it was very early in the Special Housing Area scheme.
Undeterred Mr Twyford later issued a press releases claiming that the Auditor General’s report also called into question the logic of the Government's Special Housing Areas which were basically fast-tracked consenting zones.
“If the speed of consenting is not a major problem, as the Auditor-General makes clear, it is little wonder these areas have only produced 170 houses in a year-and-a-half,” he claimed.
In fact the Auditor General, in a section on future demand for building consent services said the creation of Special Housing Areas, would dramatically increase the land available for housing and the number of building consent applications.
And so ended another day watching the political football which is Auckland housing being kicked around Parliament.