Selwyn blazes consenting trail

The fast-growing Selwyn district could not afford to wait for the Government to decide on plans for online consenting, so it went ahead and developed a system that saves the building industry up to $2.2 million.

Project Helix, the council's online building consenting system, has won a top award in local government. But critically, it may save the council $200,000 on handling consent applications.

From 2011 to 2014, building consent numbers in Selwyn rose by 45 per cent, but average processing times fell by 11 to 10.5 working days under the new system.

SDC  building manager Ian Butler said councils had been waiting for central government "to decide on a direction for online consenting". 

SDC could not wait due to the volumes of work generated by earthquake recovery, he said.

The statutory processing time for consent applications is 20 working days. In Selwyn, code compliance certificates were previously issued on average in seven working days. They were now issued in an average of less than two days.

Internal savings have been calculated in average hours, rather than dollars, Butler said.

Hourly rates across Councils varied so savings would vary accordingly. SDC was working on figures for the financial benefits. Its estimate was that annual savings to SDC, based on issuing 1,181 consents per year, were between $74,130 and $123,550 per annum.

SDC was currently issuing about 2,500 consents per annum, which equated to about $200,000 in savings.

External savings to the wider industry were estimated at 648,244 - $2.2million depending on builder investment, Butler said.

The system's designer, AlphaOne, has been developing the system for almost a decade before SDC became involved. The council started working with them in early 2012 and its system went live in February 2013.

Butler said most councils could adopt and implement the system with AlphaOne's approval for somewhere between $15,000 and $50,000 depending on the size of the organisation, the level of customization required and training needs. An ongoing per-consent fee also had to be paid.

The web-based system was transportable and could be adopted by any council in the country, as demonstrated and has already been adopted by another consenting award-winner, Kaipara District Council. It was designed to integrate and complement existing council software systems, Butler said.

The system had not been actively marketed by Alpha One, partly because it was important to Alpha to first have proof of concept. The license was owned by AlphaOne and SDC was in discussions with a number of councils about the product.

The cost of the system to SDC was not easy to quantify, as council staff had contributed staff time and an initial cash sum to customize it, Butler said.

SDC paid a per consent fee for each consent issued but the most substantial development costs have been borne by AlphaOne over a number of years. Since the system has been live DSC had continued to work with AlphaOne to monitor how customers were using the system.

SDC Mayor Kelvin Coe said the council's building consent team still had the necessary quality control systems for issuing consents.

The online system allowed people to lodge consent applications at any time from their office or from home and to check on consent process online at any time.

It also allowed code compliance certificates to be issued onsite once a final building inspection was completed. This worked well for new home owners as it allowed them to move in immediately.

The system also allowed several staff to work on a consent application at the same time. Customers who use the system were invited to trial it and offered advice on how it could be simplified.

Project Helix was implemented at a time of extraordinary building consent activity, Coe said.

SDC had been the fastest growing district in New Zealand for the past seven years running. The population growth in the year to June 2014 was the largest increase on record for a territorial authority in New Zealand for a decade. The district also has also experienced the strongest economic growth of any district in New Zealand, Coe said.

Project Helix was supreme winner of the McRedy Winder Society of Local Government managers excellence awards. The system also won the transforming service delivery category.