Christchurch mayor Bob Parker has launched an investigation into why he was not made aware of a report detailing major problems with building consents issued by the council.
The Government has appointed a Crown Manager to run the consenting department, and the council's chief executive Tony Marryatt has been placed on leave over the consents debacle.
International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) is stripping the South Island council of its building consent accreditation from 8 July because it had approved potentially dangerous buildings.
Mayor Bob Parker said on Wednesday the situation is serious and it is now apparent that councillors have not been well served by the information provided to them. Mr Maryatt has been placed on leave pending further discussions with the council.
IANZ said it looked in September 2012 at a sample of 20 building consents issued and found there was a lack of evidence to show whether or not 18 complied with the building code and this had been going on for some time. IANZ chief executive Llew Richards said that did not necessarily mean the buildings are dangerous, but that the council has not been able to prove they are safe.
That information was contained an IANZ report to the council, which Bob Parker said he was not made aware of and an investigation has been started. He said it is crucial that the public have confidence in the robustness of the consents process.
Mr Parker and Mr Marryatt were to meet Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Local Government Minister Chris Tremain on Wednesday afternoon, but the meeting has been cancelled.
Draconian measure needed, says minister
The Government said it is pleased that the council has realised the gravity of the situation and agreed to its request to appoint a Crown Manager. The council would be required by legislation to co-operate them and comply with any reasonable requests for relevant information.
Gerry Brownlee said installing a Crown Manger at the council to oversee building consents is a draconian but necessary measure, as people need certainty about their new buildings.
Mr Brownlee said a five-strong team from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment has been at the council for more than a week and would remain for some time to ensure that consents are issued properly.
The minister told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Wednesday there was no need to audit every building consent issued by the council in the past few months. Many residential properties built since September 2012 would have been constructed by companies working off standardised plans.
Mr Brownlee said he would not know how many consents have problems until the Crown Manager reports back to the Government and the IANZ and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment are working to determine the exact number.
There would be no moratorium on the council issuing building consents, as that would cause disastrous delays at a time when people are anxious to rebuild following recent damaging quakes, he said.
Insurance Council wants full audit
The Insurance Council said a full audit is needed of properties in Christchurch that have been recently issued with a building consent.
Spokesperson John Lucas told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme on Wednesday it would be a disaster if an already issued consent is cancelled part-way through a rebuild project. Mr Lucas said the insurers and homeowners of non-compliant properties need to be notified so work can begin to correct the problem.
However, property lawyer Paul Grimshaw said the problems with consents may have been going on for some time and any audit needs to go back several years.
"Some independent technical people need to come in maybe from the Department of Building and Housing. And unfortunately, they are going to have to review all the building consents granted over goodness knows how many years, because who knows how long they've been incompetent."
Mr Grimshaw said homeowners need to talk to the council and may consider suing if there are problems with their consents.
The head of the Property Council said the council losing its accreditation to issue consents reveals a catastrophic systems failure in the organisation. Chief executive Connal Townsend said this latest development is extremely worrying for people who have had consents granted. Not only has the system failed, he said, but so had the council's internal auditing of the consents process.
Mr Townsend said if similar failures occurred in the private sector, the directors would be considering their future.