Dunedin new builds in the pipeline

Dunedin City Council staff are pressing ahead with work on much-needed new housing subdivisions and other developments across the city despite the COVID-19 lockdown.

The Council has eight planners working on resource consent applications, and another 45 staff involved in the various elements of building consents, all working from home.

And while numbers of applications had declined since the lockdown began, staff were still working to ensure new developments were ready to proceed when the lockdown lifted.

DCC Resource Consents manager, Alan Worthington says up until the start of the lockdown, 2020 had been the fourth busiest year in the last two decades, reflecting the “very buoyant” local economy in 2018 and 2019.

Since the lockdown began, the Council had granted 44 resource consent, issued information for 4 Hazardous Activities and Industries List (HAIL) searches and resolved 4 Resource Management Act (RMA) complaints.

While the number of applications had dropped in the last three weeks, to about 55 percent of levels seen during the same period in 2019, the cumulative total so far in 2020 was still 20 percent higher than average for the preceding nine years, he says.

The consents being processed were for a mix of residential and commercial developments, including subdivisions, which remained “a strong feature” because of the high demand for housing in Dunedin.

The DCC’s planners still had a statutory obligation to process consents within 20 working days, and – even in lockdown – it remained important for people wanting to progress their development plans in time for when the lockdown lifted.

“It can take time to turn a proposal into physical activity, so it can be important to progress a proposal through the resource consent process. It is one step closer to giving effect to a proposal when the alert level changes.”

The lockdown had disrupted some applications, where a site visit was required, as those were not allowed at present.

Those applications had required a time extension, but “our experience is that applicants are understanding,” Alan says.

“The team have made an excellent effort in what has been a challenging time. It is not necessarily easy decamping from an office set up to sharing the kitchen table, a laptop on the couch, or some other setup.” Staff were also working on a process for public participation in notified consent applications. Moving to Level 3 will allow site visits, which may provide for all the statutory steps.

At the same time, DCC Building Solutions manager, Paul Henderson says 45 Building Services staff were available to work on the various elements of building consents – from lodgement and processing to code compliance certificates – as well as other work.

Staff also still had to meet the 20-working day requirement, and most designers and architects were also still working from home – creating a stream of work for Council staff, Paul says.

In recent years the Council had received an average of 12.5 building consent applications a day in April, although that had dropped to an average of 9.5 consent applications per day so far this April.

Just prior to lockdown, the Council had about 160 applications to process in its system, and in recent days that figure had dropped to between 80 and 90, he said.

“The building industry had been buoyant in Dunedin for a number of years now with all expectations prior to lockdown being it would continue. The number of building consents for the first two months of the year was just slightly higher than the same period of the previous five years.” About 60 percent of applications received were usually in electronic form, and those were now being processed much sooner than in the past, within statutory timeframes. That was expected to continue under all levels of lockdown, he said.

For paper consents received prior to lockdown, a number would have breached the statutory timeframe as various elements could not be processed.

Staff had been able to take some of the small consents home with them and scan the documents, turning them into electronic consents which could then be processed fully.

Staff had also recently begun contacting customers to see if they can send files electronically instead, so they could also be processed during the lockdown.

Some had indicated they would, while others were happy to wait for the paper consent to be processed in due course, he says.

Staff working from home had been able to get up and running quickly, which had also helped.

“We did stagger the set up although the whole team is now operational and has really pulled together despite the challenges.” The information on this page is from the Dunedin City Council website, visit: www.dunedin.govt.nz.

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