Formerly New Zealand's High Commissioner to the Cook Islands and MP for the Northland Electorate of New Zealand.


Moving forward together

Thursday 15 February 2018

Enabling social and economic growth

Most people will be aware of the current building boom and the opportunities it is creating for Northland. The Far North District Council wants to enable this growth, so I would like to explain how our building and resource consents service is dealing with the higher number of applications.

First, I want to point out that the Council is not alone in struggling to issue consents for building projects and developments within statutory timeframes. Auckland Council made national news last November because staff turnover and the increasing complexity of applications were causing delays in approving projects.

The construction sector is also under pressure. There is a shortage of tradespeople across the country, including in Auckland where one company has resorted to bringing in 200 workers from China to complete a new hotel.

I am pleased to report some progress since I first commented about these issues late last year. We have now filled most vacancies in our planning team and we have improved our processes for handling resource consent applications, although it will be some time before we are assessing all applications within 20 working days.

While we are processing most building consent applications within 20 days, we are struggling to handle the growing number of consents for large developments.

We are currently processing, or awaiting, 30 building consent applications for commercial developments. These have a total value of nearly $51 million and are in a range of sectors, including retail, education and health. It is very pleasing to see this level of social and economic investment in the district, but we need to ensure we are enabling this growth.

We are urgently investigating measures to increase our capacity to deal with these applications, as well as those the government's investment in the Far North will generate. Options we are considering include referring applications to other councils to process, seconding staff from these councils and reviewing our case handling processes.

We are also looking at improving our communication with applicants and developers, so they have a better understanding of our information requirements and opportunities to meet with staff before they lodge applications. We have to return a number of applications, because they are not complete or up to the required standard.

We appreciate the frustration this causes for some developers, but we have to comply with the Building Act, accreditation regulations and Government directives. One of the best things we can do is get together before a project starts, so I encourage developers to avoid unnecessary delays by asking staff to vet applications at pre-application meetings.

I will update you on progress with this investigation in the near future. In the meantime, I want to assure developers that we hear your concerns and are doing everything we can to address these as quickly as possible.

We have already adapted successfully to the building boom by redeploying organisational resources or outsourcing work to external planners. It is our aim to continue working closely with builders, developers and architects to achieve good outcomes. I am confident that, together, we will rise to this new challenge, so that the Council enables the growth and opportunities these developments represent.



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