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Why can’t all Auckland residents benefit

By Ali Frederickson

I applaud the Government’s plan to override Auckland Council by establishing a new urban development authority that will enable it to speed up KiwiBuild and Housing NZ’s developments in Auckland.

It doesn’t take an Einstein to realise that speed is of the essence in addressing the serious housing crisis in our city – particularly for those who have been shut out of the property market and who struggle to afford rental accommodation.

The Government’s intention to substantially reduce the planning and consenting process sounds like a great idea – I believe the man in the street should also benefit to the same extent from cutting Council out of the consenting process and obtain their own residential consents faster from the independent engineering and town planning sectors.

If the Government has found Council so inept in the resource management, building and consents area, why can’t the powers of this new urban development authority benefit everyone? Why isn’t the Council’s building consent division sacked? If it’s good enough for the Government to side track Council, residents should be able to do the same. Why is it only the Government that gets the chance to override the Unitary Plan?

When is enough enough? In numerous blogs and also op eds in the Herald in recent years I have criticised the Council for its tardiness and incompetence in issuing building consents. So I was heartened to see earlier this month that I’m not alone in thinking that Auckland Council’s performance in this area is not good enough. In his annual audit report for the 2017-18 year, Deputy Auditor-General Greg Schollum has been strongly critical of Auckland Council’s slowness and inefficiency with its consenting process.

According to Council’s own website: ‘Mr Schollum identified issues with processing times and errors in the recording of time to process consents.’ This is no less than a significant rap on the wrist for Phil Goff and his inept consenting division. Come on guys, rediscover best practice!

Mr Schollum found that only 52% of building consents were issued within the 20-day statutory deadline. This is appalling but it is not correct. Over 90% of the initial building consents are put aside by Council as they ask for additional information from the owner for the consent thus delaying the 20-day deadline.  It is not unusual for Council to issue further letters asking for additional information at the end of each 20-day deadline.  This slows down the process by a further 100-150 days and the cost to the applicant is $169.00 per letter from Council.

Each reply goes to the bottom of the list and the 20-day deadline then starts again.

I’ve had plenty of personal experience of frustrating delays in the Council’s consent process – and heard stories from disgruntled family members, friends and associates about their own delayed consents. Dealing with Council’s consenting division takes its toll emotionally and financially on everyone who finds themselves caught in its consenting spider web.

There are some very good staff at Council but many of the staff’s attitude needs to be addressed and they must be reminded that they are there for the benefit of the ratepayers.

Rodney Hyde’s brainchild has been a disaster for Auckland. Council amalgamation has failed miserably. It may have started with good intentions – to reduce rates, make planning more efficient and region-wide and offer better services. But the costs of resource consents has tripled – and we all know what’s happened regarding rate rises. An annual upward trajectory.

Bring back the Auckland Regional Council with its dedicated focus on the environment. Throttle back on the power ceded to the CCOs. Council controlled? Don’t make me laugh. Just look at the Ports of Auckland fiasco.

Do we need to rethink amalgamation? But first let’s strip Auckland Council of its power to issue building consents and privatise the job.

I have been in real estate for 55 years and I remember the days when first home buyers could capitalise the family benefit to buy their first home and raise a first mortgage with State Advances to assist.  We could do that today with the Housing Corp providing the first mortgage by way of bonds.

We could also use bonds to assist home owners having to reclad their homes and apartments.  This is an easy solution to the pain that is being caused for first home buyers and owners of reclad properties.  KiwiBuild is definitely not the answer.

Sometimes we have to look back at history for today’s answers and solutions.

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