8 Feb 2017

Council cutting red tape to speed Auckland building inspections

10:09 am on 8 February 2017

Auckland Council is promising to fast track more building inspections after long delays last year as it struggled to cope with the construction boom.

Auckland building inspections.

Auckland Council carried out a record 148,000 building inspections last year. Photo: RNZ / Sharon Brettkelly

The council carried out a record 148,000 inspections last year and is expecting similar levels this year.

Inspections manager Jeff Fahrenson said most house building projects were inspected 10 to 12 times, costing the owner about $1500. The council had already introduced a series of pilot projects aimed at cutting the number of costly inspections.

Mr Fahrenson said the construction boom had created a shortage in traditional building materials, forcing builders to turn to substitute products to get the work done faster.

Last month the council put out a warning to builders and owners to make sure materials met the building code, or risk long delays.

"It does hold up construction ... if we turn up and they're using a product that we don't know about.

"To go through the testing regime and verify compliance could take a matter of weeks, or even months in some cases, and we can't allow the work to continue in case that stuff gets covered up and it makes it even harder to replace if it needs to be later."

But builder Jason Stone of Walker Adolph Homes said it was not substitute products or the shortage of materials holding up his projects.

He blamed delays to the council's inspection times and bugs in its digital processing system.

He said he had spent a lot of time and money becoming a licensed building practitioner (LBP) and had thought that meant the council would give him special treatment.

"I'm just wondering why we have to be an LBP if we've got all these inspections. I thought that was the whole idea, to maybe shorten inspections, but obviously not," Mr Stone said.

Mr Fahrenson said the "intent of the licensing regime was to put a little more responsibility back on the practitioners".

"Unfortunately the industry is not quite ready. There are a lot of good builders out there and we do treat them differently. We'd like to reward the good players in the market."

Builder Jason Stone (left) and Auckland Council inspection's manager Jeff Fahrenson

Builder Jason Stone (left) and Auckland Council inspection manager Jeff Fahrenson. Photo: RNZ / Sharon Brettkelly

The council would reduce its inspection regime for a "good builder with a good history of passing inspections", and there were already projects in Auckland with "less regulatory oversight" where people had a quality assurance programme, Mr Fahrenson said.

He said the council was trying to cut the red tape and was targeting group home builders that were putting up 200 homes in a subdivision where most of their buildings were similar.

Builders like Mr Stone, who worked on "bespoke" or one-off projects, were the next phase but it could be several months before they benefited.

Mr Fahrenson said the council was working on a new scheme called Consenting Made Easy, a one stop shop for applications and inspections.

It aimed to guarantee next-day inspections and clear up delays that had held up Mr Stone's jobs by more than a week before Christmas.

"We're going to use digital advances to help things for the builders, so you can lodge everything online including documentation, minor variations during the job, as well as your plans at the beginning, and it's all reliant on upgrading our digital systems and the way that we're doing our processes," he said.

He said the the reduction in inspections means costs would costs could fall by several hundred dollars.

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