Wednesday 20 March 2024

How the anti-building bureaucracy works


HERE'S A BRIEF UPDATE for you on how the anti-building bureaucracy works to confound eager new ministers.

Bright-eyed building minister Chris Penk has just posted a gushing self-satisfied presser promising faster building consents. "The government," it says, "is taking steps to reduce delays and speed up building consents."

Exciting. Encouraging. Mighty work.

What are those steps? you ask.

Here's the first step: "requiring councils to submit data for building consent and code compliance certificates every quarter."

There are no other steps.

That's it.

Minister Penk has confused a singular with a plural.

But what about that singular step of his. Will "requiring councils to submit data for building consent and code compliance certificates every quarter" in some way "reduce delay and speed up building consents?"

Even in Minister Penk's carefully-worded boast, which many a building minister has promised before him, he can only advise that "this added scrutiny will provide greater certainty for the sector, encourage best practice and drive innovation that will help reduce delays and let Kiwi builders get on with the job."

Greater certainty! Best practice! Driving innovation! Reducing delays! Splendid!! How? Somehow. Apparently.

All he can promise, apparently, is hope. Beyond that hope, which is as eternal as some building consent applications, Minister Penk's intended causal chain for reducing delays is not entirely clear.

LET ME ADVISE MINISTER Penk of something that every Kiwi builder and everyone in the "sector" who's ever applied for a building consent already knows: that any self-respecting building processor knows how to "stop the clock" so judiciously that they're able to ensure that almost every consent will appear to have been processed swiftly and efficiently. And they can "stop the clock" simply by asking a question, however stupid. ("Please draw a detail of the backsplash for the hand basin"; "please draw nosing detail for lower stair"; "please provide a dimension for something we all already know";"please provide yet another piece of technical literature from the manufacturer"; "please provide engineering for item already covered in the Building Code" etc.) And it's not just one question — these official "requests for further information?" can often be encyclopaedic!

And they legally delay the whole process. It may have taken a year or two on the calendar to process (yes, even some simple building consents can take that long) but with some careful, cool and efficient stopping of the clock, so that most of the delay-days aren't counted, even that drawn-out unforgiving process can be made to look swift and efficient. (Even more incentive when some of the council processors are employed by the hour to dream up and send out these questions.)

Applications for building consents must, says the Building Act, be completed within 20 working days. All this questioning and encyclopaedic compilation of paperwork however ca easily keep the "official" tally of days down to the prescribed twenty. 

But all this time-wasting costs money — and more pressure from Ministers like Mr Penk will not do a single thing to reduce delays and let Kiwi builders get on with the job. Instead, it will only encourage more stupid questions from council's consent processors so that their "data for building consent and code compliance certificates every quarter" will look spick and span.

These days, as they say, the building is often the easy part.


Duncan Bayne said...

In private sector management there's a red flag (heh) for this sort of "initiative": no measurable outcomes even proposed.

How about "decrease average time for the compliance process from X to Y?"

That'd mean they're serious.

MarkT said...

You’re entirely right. This will likely achieve nothing except more paperwork from Council to government trying to justify the delays.

Bruce Cameron said...

Yep, from someone also in the industry, I thought exactly the same when I saw this press release. What a pathetic attempt to get accountably from BCA’s. This will just make it worse with more stupid RFI’s.

MarkT said...

@ Duncan - I think that would be equally useless, if not make it worse. A target without a cause & effect understanding of what'd required to hit the target means nothing. The grey area is that even if you commit to a timeframe of say 20 working days, it's on the basis of it being a 'complete' application in the first place, because Council can't be held accountable otherwise. So if they've done nothing by Day 19, they just find a creative way to make it 'incomplete' and send it back to the applicant.

The only obvious way around this is to start removing the responsibility for certification and approval from Councils in some way, so their arses aren't on the line. Unfortunately the recent spate of leaky building settlements where Councils such as Auckland and Queenstown where councils (i.e. ratepayers) have been held responsible for repair costs has made things worse.