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Being accountable matters

By Paul Lochore FREINZ

What does it mean to be truly accountable? It means being responsible for your actions. It means fronting up, being honest about what you’ve failed to do or have performed poorly. It means holding yourself to a standard of behaviour or ethics and providing an explanation or an apology if you fall short of that standard. It means being transparent. It can even mean being willing to apologise, to admit mistakes or to promise to do better next time.

This is what we aim for as individuals, right?  We try and often we fail. But it’s important that we keep trying.

Local body organisations need to be accountable to we ratepayers too. But if they fall short of what’s accepted, what can we do as individuals to hold them to account if it’s not election year?

On 15 May the NZ Herald published my opinion piece in which I took the Auckland Council to task for their excessive costs and delays in relation to building consents. Afterwards I was inundated with calls and emails of support. Homeowners and developers expressed frustration and anger over the Council’s poor performance in the consent area. But is the Council listening and improving its performance?

The answer would have to be a resounding no.

Exactly one week later the Herald published the Council’s response to my article, in which Penny Pirrit, Director of Regulatory Services at Auckland Council, refuted my comments. I saw plenty of justification and misleading information. I saw no humility, no willingness to listen, no acceptance that Council’s service might be falling short in the building consents area, or any concession that ratepayers or I might have a valid point.

Ms Pirrit claimed, ‘for the average application, where all paperwork is in order, it takes 17 statutory days for consent to be issued’.

I think I must be living in an alternate universe to Ms Pirrit. Have you, or anyone you know ever received a building consent within 17 days? What typically happens is that applicants will receive a template letter before 20 days has passed, requesting further information. And then applicants can expect several more letters to arrive every 18-20 days with the same request.

Most people use experts to help them apply for consents – engineers, architects, drafts people, surveyors – you’d be crazy not to. People know they have to have their ducks in a row or they risk further delays.

Ms Pirrit also states that ‘95 per cent of code of compliance certificates are issued within 20 days’. This is not what I’m hearing.

I’ll tell you another thing homeowners and developers are experiencing – council staff having different opinions on interpretations of the Building Code. If you have different staff members on your case, you can’t rely on each Council representative to provide a consistent opinion.

Yes, I fully appreciate that Council needs to be very robust to prevent cowboys from cutting corners with construction and materials. But I’m talking about what happens well before the foundations are laid.

My gripe is about the length of time it takes Council to process building consents, the delaying tactics and the excessive costs of consents and contribution fees. So, either they need better trained staff or more staff – probably both.

I realise I’m continually beating this drum, but the frustrating thing is – the situation isn’t improving.

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