Independent report into Auckland Council's Building Consents Department finds major shortcomings resulting in poor customer service

Auckland Council's Building Consent Department has been blasted in a report commissioned by the Council Itself from a firm of outside consultants.

The report found a number of significant shortcomings with the department and its operations, including poor consent demand forecasting, challenges in recruiting and retaining staff, cumbersome computer systems and a limited capacity to implement improvements.

It concluded that given the growth in demand for consents being experienced in Auckland, the Council's current consenting situation was "unsustainable."

Growth in the number of consent application had prompted the Council's Building Consent Department to introduce an action plan called the Meeting Demand Programme, to lift the Department's performance.

However backlogs in consents in the 2017/18 financial year prompted the Council to commission an independent review of the programme by consulting firm Martin Jenkins.

This report acknowledged the Meeting Demand Programme was a comprehensive initiative drawing on most of the levers available to the department, and all of its actions had merit.

But it also found major shortcomings.

It said the actions specified in the programme were not prioritised, sequenced or integrated, and the report's authors had not cited a detailed implementation plan or evidence of comprehensive implementation for several initiatives proposed in the programme, such as a backlog busting team, and improvements in workflow management, monitoring and reporting.

It also found several key factors that had a negative impact on the department's performance:

  • A demand forecasting model that's not providing robust data to inform analysis and decision making, although the report acknowledged that improvements had been made in this area recently.
  • Challenges in recruitment and retention of staff, exacerbated by a slow and burdensome recruitment process and the length of time required to train new staff to capacity.
  • Inflexible and cumbersome IT systems and support systems.
  • Very limited capacity to implement identified improvements.

In a statement released with the report, Auckland Council's Director of Regulatory services Penny Pirrit, said growth in the number of consent applications and in the number of multi-unit consent applications had meant not only were the number of consents increasing, they were taking longer to process because they were more complicated.

To cope with the increased workflow the Council had increased its use of external contractors by 30% and its own staff were working significant overtime.

"However we recognise that we are not currently meeting statutory time frames or delivering the customer service that we are striving to achieve,"  she said.

"The Council supports the report's findings and many of its recommendations are already being delivered as part of our ongoing programme."

Here is the full report.

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38 Comments

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Oh dear. Hiring a consultancy to discover what you don't already know about a supplier doing the work you're ultimately responsible for related to arguably the biggest issue your organization faces. Ricky Gervais would love this stuff. Great imagery too.

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That photo was taken in the AKL planning department last week.

No. When things happened manually by well trained people it would have all gone very smoothly.

Its the Muppet show. Trying to work thu BC on some stuff. Whole process feel like they are tired, and a focus on arse covering to make sure someone else name is on absolutely everything. Even had to supply the existing Resource Consent to read because they could access that information. I'm months overdue on a really simple project. Id hate to think the impact of some complex multi story stuff.

On a scale of 1-10 on how bad it is (1 shoot on site - 10 hero) are a 3 on a good day.

I add that imo leaky buildings has added significantly to the disfunction of council process. Council/ratepayers are picking up a large part of the tab as everyone else has liquidated and started afresh. Accordingly the companies act in a way is to blame. If directors of system manufacturers, developers, architects, engineers, and builders carried liabilty personally they couldnt hide behind collapseable companies.

I wonder if they're using NPS (Net Promoter Score) to evaluate how their customers actually see them. I would imagine not. They probably see such insight as unnecessary for "officialdom." They're likely to see NPS as only for Uber or Agoda.

The whole edifice of building consent and RMA needs to be ploughed under. Reverting to consenting systems of 20-30 years back would be better (and cheaper) than this.

This article could be about a few of our councils. They should go national-level on the software platform.

Yes Nick, they're all as bad as eachother.

But heck no, not a huge public IT project! It would have a bugdet of $x and quickly go to $3x and a decade later will have cost $10x and be useless.

there is already a software system available to do this (Alpha1). Some Councils use it already, but it means consent processing can be done anywhere and all records are saved electronically for the files and property records.
The system should allow you to get a consent from any consent company or council for anywhere in NZ. We have a national building code so there is no reason why not - except to many empires depend on the current dysfunctional system.

The AlphaOne platform is used locally (Christchurch City plus Selwyn DC). As geoffm notes, though, it represents a threat to the fiefdoms.

The answer if One System to Rule 'Em All is in fact desirable, is to use the available levers to mandate it. Like saying - OK, no NZTA subsidies unless we have a commitment and an Implementation Plan by end of month. And we'll go halves on the software licenses.

As Glenn Reynolds is fond of saying, the main defect in a unified back-end system is that there are insufficient opportunities for graft.

Much the same can be said aboot the Health Boards. A single procurement and back-end financials is still not there. And in the case of the Dunedin saga, there really were opportunities for graft.....

Why am I not surprise! Years ago whenever I paid a visit to Graham Street Auckland Council building office. The atmosphere was always like "what can we decline them for?"
What Brisbane Council is doing right now and Auckland Council should copy it, is having a "Meet the Planners" day, where they have 20+ planners and engineers in a community hall where you can book a session, come along and everyone there to go through a proposal with you.

Computer says no! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJQ3TM-p2QI

I have developed once. Precisely once. Like many who give it a go. I initially met with planners, they were all very supportive. Then I put my resource consent in and it came back with pages of very costly and time consuming things to comply with.

What they do is have these meetings, tell you that they like your proposal, get you to submit a resource consent application (which costs tens of thousands for reports, drawings etc.) and then they go away and have their own private meeting in their offices and decide how much they can get out of you in terms of money, fixing up things around you, paying for infrastructure they don't want to pay for etc.

What, without a paid-for Pre-Planning Assessment Scoping Feasibility meeting or five? And, quelle horreur, without yer own expensive Planning Process Navigation Consultant and their assistant along?

That will nevah do!

It would mean that Fees and Other Revenues would drop, which would cause Rates Required to rise (because, and but of course, there would be no downsizing...or reduced costs). And Ratepayers would get antsy, toss those Clown Councillors out, and make those comfortable lives around the planning table More Uncomfortabler. For about fifteen seconds. Fresh Councillors = Fresh Meat for the Butchers...

No, that would Nevah Do.....

"... cumbersome computer systems..."!!!
What? After spending all that ratepayers money!!!

The council process ensures our houses are exactly as crap as our standards which were crap in 2004 and way outdated now. For instance our aluminium windows which even if thermally broken are not installed to perform correctly. Any tall poppy wanting to build a better house will be cut down because that's not "the NZ way".

The solution is to shut down BRANZ and allow kit set houses from Poland or Germany. Cheaper, warmer, quicker. The council should just be there to make sure nobody builds beyond the height and boundary restrictions.

On a $500k consent $500 goes to those useless buggers at BRANZ. You know - the same people that approved lots of leaky building products.

That is probably the biggest reason why councils struggle!

Take for example the NZ window standards, only a very small subset of the whole Building Code. It does not even require a specific minimum thermal performance metric to be met! Why would that be still the case when it has been scientifically proven so many decades ago that a window is the poorest performing part of any external wall?

BRANZ are now even "researching" a method for installing a window into a recessed position that is weathertight. Not really worried about being thermally much more efficient, but rather to sort out the continuing issue of leaky buildings. Yet, in Germany, there is an organisation called ift Rosenheim, only the most respected european technical institute, that had a complete window installation guide 300 pages long for decades. Reviewed and updated regularly to account for newer materials and methods to improve performance. Since 2017 even available in english language and other languages to come!!! Why couldn't we just adopt all that scientific goodness and just call a spade a spade? Because there would be far too many people forced to admit that what they have preached and built all those years is crap and we would have to find many more engineers who really understand building physics...

But then you also would need to tackle the building code in its entirety, and where would you even start....?

That's the most disappointing thing about NZ. We can't even copy let alone innovate. At least countries like China respect world class engineering enough to copy it.

Honestly the councils are all about arse covering. Nobody is going to sue them if their power bill is 50% too high because the insulation and windows were installed wrong. All they care about is elf & safety and leaky buildings.

I'm building a house down south and yesterday the council came in for a pre-line inspection. I dropped by at the end of the day to check the insulation. Gaps all over the place... I don't have the the inspection result yet but clearly the builders are not afraid of the inspection having any ramifications on them.

I looked up the building code here their guideline states every 1mm gap can cause a 3% drop in performance. So they're not even following our pathetic codes!

If the councils were not a state sheltered monopoly nobody would use them. Overseas they have blower tests, temperature probes, thermal cameras up the builders back side. Here we practice alternative building science much like alternative medicine it's BS. I would much rather have the Passive House Institute doing the inspections.

The goal of the govt should be to make all these industry parties (BRANZ, councils, builders, Fletchers) very upset. The more whinging the more they're doing right.

NZ hates computer systems .. NZ is IT phobic, WHY?
Because IT systems stop bureaucratic Ticket Clipping

NOVA Pay, KiwiBank, Customs, IRD, etc - all systems MUST FAIL - useless bureaucrats are desperate to ticket clip at the expense of the productive economy.

The result~??? Low Productivity - Rich Bureaucrats - Extortionate Conveyancey Fees, etc, etc
Welcome to New Zealand, won't you come on in.

You forgot the biggest IT waste of all, the Police INCIS mainfame system. All $73 million of it. Tossed in the garbage. It's probably sitting in a shed somewhere, maybe they could offload it to Auckland City at a profit ;). They will however need some external consultants to plug it in.

Oh god that’s right. What is it about National Governments and gross wastage of money on IT Systems?

Not true. INCIS was rolled out as planned (overdue and over budget and missing half of the promised features) and is still used by the police today, in a much improved form. It was renamed to try and escape the clusterfck connotations of INCIS.

I fear that the Building Consent Department will now be in for a RE-DIS-ORGANISATION - but perform no better as a result.

The real problem is that this INEFFICIENT, UNHELPFUL (and UGLY) little bureaucracy is protected by Statute. It's a PURE MONOPOLY, because you can't go anywhere else to get your building consent.

Personally, I'd allow another consent granting authority into existence - and let the two (or more) of them compete with each other on the grounds of efficiency and fees charged. That should help get rid of the "HANDBRAKE ON PROGRESS" mentality of the existing outfit. Auckland has a housing shortage but the current bureaucracy CONTRIBUTES NOTHING towards getting more dwellings built.

Certainly, I'd SACK EVERYONE in the existing Building Consent Department and hire new people with decent credentials - e.g. a track-record of effectiveness in customer service. The existing entrenched culture of SLACKNESS and COMPLACENCY needs to be eliminated in its entirety.

Heaps of Aucklanders are fed up to the back teeth with the SHABBY PERFORMANCE of the existing set-up. I NEVER hear a good word about them from the public.

I'd sooner go to jail than go to Auckland Council's Building Consents Department. At least the former knows what it's doing.

TTP

There is no Building Consent Crisis

~ Sincerely National ~

Who is accountable for this mess? And why are they not sacked?
No accountability....abysmal

We will need to refer that to the communications department for comment. Regards, Auckland Council. Haere mai!

I am tired of hearing people saying no houses were built under the previous Government .

Has anyone been to Hobsonville Point , or Silverdale , or Millwater or Pokeno in the past 9 years ?

Did the Government build houses in those areas? If so how many?

Come on Dan, you can't hold a National policy to the same standard as Labour.. that's just not cricket.

@Nzdan ...........you miss the point completely , just how many houses is this Labour Government actually going to build .

Not one .

The actual building is going to be done by the private sector , no different to the previuos government

@Boatman, have you been to some parts of Australia where they are addressing the house shortage problem? They built a whole township FGS! Not just a few hundreds like Hobsonville

Hahah well duhhhhhh. I'd hope they be built by qualified builders that you find in the private sector and not bureaucrats that felt like a change of scenery.

Not so long ago (it was in this millenium) we had no timetables on the busstops. If you were at a busstop waiting for a bus, and wondering when your bus will arrive, a driver of another bus had to call his office (using some kind of a strange telephone) and ask for the time of your next bus, to the annoyance of passengers. That whas relatively simple to solve over a few years. Would you expect that something so complicated as an issuance of consents to build a house will be solved sooner?

While this report is about Auckland's council, I'd suggest it is at least indicative of ALL councils!

Councils over the whole country have created fiefdom based bureaucracies that are a power unto themselves, difficult to deal with, insensitive to their ratepayers, uncaring about customer service despite lip service, and frankly appearing to be in love with their own power and "expertise". God help any qualified engineer challenging a council engineering department! They are not interested in efficiency or effectiveness.

Which is precisely why the UDA's proposed for Awkland will be their own BCA. Actually, there is the possibility of private organisations being BCA's but the current register reveals none.

What value is really added by these complex layers of bureaucracy?

Employment, by the floor's worth, to heavily unionised minions unemployable elsewhere, who will reliably Vote for the Hand Wot Feeds 'em, as instructed from time to time by the aforesaid Unions....

I missed this article yesterday but it's the same at Wellington City Council if not worse.

This article describes the majority of council consenting offices throughout NZ, not just the Auckland one.