Building consents no excuse for Christchurch take over

Christchurch’s building consent issue and the appointment of a Crown Manager is not an excuse for the Government to further reduce the Christchurch City Council’s decision making and further restrict democracy in the city.

The Government gave itself increased powers under the Local Government Act last year and is now trying them out on the Christchurch City Council.   The Crown Manager’s powers exceed those of a CEO.  A Crown Manager can direct the Council (ie councillors), which a CEO cannot.

And who is the consultant put in place to fix this situation? Doug Martin, who is one of the people who recommended the axing of elected councillors at Canterbury Regional Council in 2010.

Doug Martin’s firm, MartinJenkins consultants, was also reported to have been hired to help National “overhaul” the Resource Management Act. The Government’s proposals here would give economic matters greater weight at the environment’s expense when councils consider resource consent applications.

We can’t put it past National to march in and take over the City Council given its record of trampling on democracy in Christchurch. In 2010 it got rid of regional councillors to promote the Government’s irrigation agenda and reduced appeal rights to the Environment Court in Canterbury.

Post ‘quakes it has used CERA’s sweeping powers to trample on public participation, democracy and normal RMA planning processes. This continues despite the emergency being long gone. And last year, Government extended the term for the unelected ECan commissioners so that Cantabrians can’t vote for their regional council in October.

National shouldn’t use the building consent issue as an excuse to undermine public confidence in the City Council or advance Government’s plans for a radical restructure of local government in Canterbury.  The City Council continues to deliver a host of services from libraries and parks to recycling to wastewater efficiently and effectively.

70 per cent of Christchurch residents are “satisfied or very satisfied” with the services Council provides according to the City Council’s recently-completed resident surveys.  It has done these surveys each year for the last 10 years and the Council’s overall score this year was the same as in 2011/12 survey.

The Christchurch earthquakes are the largest natural disaster in New Zealand’s history.  There is a huge spike in the building consent applications hitting the Council as we rebuild the city.  We need a robust and efficient consent process.

When Christchurch MPs met with City Councillors last Friday I was left in no doubt about councillors’ commitment to fixing the building consent issue. More training for staff and improving council systems are two priorities.

The Crown Manager must be in place for the minimum time needed for Council to improve its systems and regain accreditation. A professional and effective manager should be able to do that within six months. The 18 month term Government has allowed Mr Martin gives too much scope for meddling with other Council decision making.


6 Comments Posted

  1. National govt has finally found a good excuse to depower local council; big win for Key in this power struggle since rebuild started…
    Let’s have our eyes widely open and see how they do things better

  2. “When Christchurch MPs met with City Councillors last Friday I was left in no doubt about councillors’ commitment to fixing the building consent issue. More training for staff and improving council systems are two priorities.”

    Apparently IANZ sends out reports of this nature to all Council regularly, and nobody ever takes any notice as it’s just an academic exercise to keep the systems looking like they’re working.

    I recall making building extensions in Gisborne some years ago and the Building Inspector just turned up on the last day to hand over a pre-prepared certificate to the builder. The inspector did absolutely nothing. When a builder is known to the Council and has never had a problem of compliance, these type of permits are regularly issued, it’s just no big deal.

    I suppose that modern building falling down and killing all those people in Christchurch should have alerted the Council to more vigorous inspections of their processes, but it’s still no big deal, the Council will still issue permits. This is just an academic exercise of a quango flexing it’s little used muscles.

  3. Yeah another CTV wont matter, many of those who died were just fodder for your proposed new M8, Winston first.

    Lack of technical knowledge and acumen has been pro forma in the shambles that was Building consents in ChCH City for years.

    We are facing the REBUILD of the City, when opportunities will be seen by many to make fast money at the expense of investers and ratepayers, a Crown Manager was imperetive so could I humbly suggest you stop bleating and support efforts to correct the dangerous shortcomings.

    But then you accepted 19 years of failure to address the core function of Ecan of creating and promulgating a coherrent water management policy didn’t you.

    Inane oppose just for the sake of it. Sadly I expected better from you.

  4. I feel complicated about this.

    When it’s investigated properly, I think it likely that the council will have consented some unsafe buildings. From that point of view, there should have been intervention sooner, and the current intervention is short of what’s needed to fix the problem.

    If central government uses that problem as an opportunity to unmake the local democratic and policy-making process, I share your disapproval.

    When I understand the current government, it seems to be doing profit-taking. It would not surprise me if more access to Christchurch city council created profit-taking opportunities. How would we measure that?

  5. While I disagree with many of the ways National has dealt with the council since the earthquake, I dont really have a problem with this. The council should never have let the consents process get into this state, and I think they genuinely do need outside help in this case. They are clearly unable to fix this themselves.

    That said, Nationals choice for crown manager seems somewhat like cronyism, and it will remain to be seen whether he just focuses on sorting the consent process out and doesn’t delve into other areas.

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