Less than three years after the GoShift initiative was born, 21 councils from Western Bay of Plenty to Nelson are increasingly using common management frameworks to help process building consents faster, more accurately and in similar ways. Now, GoShift is considering next steps for its future structure and direction. Ruth Le Pla reports.
In the past, when a builder wanted council consent for something as simple as a fireplace installation it could have taken them upwards of two hours to lodge an application. Among other things, the process involved pulling together all the plans and specs, printing out two copies, and submitting the paper forms to council. Now the same type of application can take just two to five minutes via an online portal.
Sounds like a small saving, perhaps. But multiply that out across 68 local authorities and times that by the huge numbers of applications – especially in boom town places like Queenstown, Tauranga and Auckland – and the time, and cost savings, stack up fast.
For the past 30 months or so, the GoShift initiative has been nudging its councils to switch from paper-based building consent processes to the online portal. The overarching goal is to hike performance, consistency and service delivery across the whole building consent system.
Getting such consents has long been a source of frustration for builders in the commercial and residential sectors alike. As far back as 2014, the EMA Northern was asking political parties to include in their general election policies their proposals to improve local government consenting processes.
David Lowe, then the EMA’s GM advocacy and government relations, slammed council consenting processes as “slow and unduly bureaucratic, and sometimes more concerned with being more protective of local authorities than facilitating the growth and development of their region”.
He added that there was “huge disparity” in processing consents throughout the country. And within individual councils he reckoned “patch protection” amongst departments and their agencies was causing delays and hiking costs for builders.
While many frustrations remain, the GoShift initiative has made significant strides towards helping alleviate some of these issues.
The project is led by Wellington City Council with the support of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).
It is headed by a governance group made up of three senior responsible owners (SROs): Chris Upton, CEO of Upper Hutt City Council; Mark Pattemore, manager, consents and compliance from Wellington City Council; and Seth Campbell, MBIE’s manager system design and implementation.
They are supported by a programme control group the nine members of which represent the regions from which the councils involved are drawn.
GoShift aims to deliver a common vision, goals, management framework and quality management for building consent processes across all participating councils. To date, 21 councils have opted in.
Ross McCarthy is GoShift’s strategic and engagement manager. Speaking at the ALGIM Annual Conference in Rotorua late last year, he said he’d heard “multiple rumours” about what GoShift is or isn’t.
“I’ve heard it’s a system or a programme,” he said. “The reality is GoShift’s just an initiative born out of frustration. We’ve had multiple attempts from central government to get building consents online.”
He says GoShift was born out of the idea of local government creating its own solution. In truth, it’s a collaborative initiative between local and central government that takes in the needs of suppliers as well.
With a career spanning both the building industry and local government – he was with Wellington City Council – Ross points out that every council uses the same Building Act and set of building codes. “Yet councils across the country had 68 different variations on working with them.”
All of which, of course, is both a nightmare and a nonsense for builders and is a sure way to frustrate and stymie economic development.
Lofty goals aside, Ross says one of GoShift’s main aims has simply been to get councils to use the same standard form for building consents. All 21 councils in the initiative now do this.
Similarly, GoShift now has a pilot group of seven councils working in the digital space in exactly the same way. “We didn’t try and solve everything all at once,” says Ross.
While these may sound like baby steps, Ross says statistics collected by MBIE as part of its work on the National Building Consent System – plus figures from his own organisation – indicate applicants for building consents are now collectively saving upwards of $23 million a year.
From a council perspective, by 2022 it will have led to savings of more than $28 million a year. Ross says the savings come from reducing the huge amount of paper that’s being handled as well as additional tasks such as scanning applications.
For central government agencies, there is easier access to real-time information, and with that comes an associated reduced risk.
“After the leaky building crisis a few years ago, real-time access to information was near impossible,” says Ross. “It took years to figure out what information had been submitted and how. The agencies were the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. We’re switching that around. We’re getting the information upfront and we can provide it in real time.”
A further plus-point for all concerned is that any legislative changes or tweaks to the building code can be fed through to a shared system for all parties. Such a change need only be made once and it’s done.
Speaking with NZ Local Government Magazine after his presentation at the ALGIM Conference, Ross said GoShift’s goal has always been to see customers applying for building consents in a consistent way across every single council in the country.
“The 21 councils are really a group willing to make some change. In essence, this is proof of concept for a much bigger picture. If it can work across 21 councils, it can work across the whole country.”
In June this year, GoShift’s SROs and programme control group are expected to make some pivotal decisions on the initiative’s future.
“The discussion points at the moment are what it will look like and how it will all fit together,” says Ross.
“We’ve reached the point that now we need to decide what we will focus on next,” he says.
“GoShift can’t stay as an initiative forever. So the big conversation is what does it become? Is it an entity of some sort? GoShift was just an initiative but it needs to turn in to something to make sure that what we’re building is maintained for the life of the products.”
Ross says his main message is that change must come from within councils and that the councils he’s been working with have been “awesome in changing for the greater good”.
“A lot of the change hasn’t necessarily been the technology or the products we’re building, it’s been internally with councils and the way they’re thinking.
“Prior to GoShift a lot of the thinking was very silo-driven. Each council was developing and building and maintaining their own system. They can now see the benefit of not having to maintain the forms, for example,” he says.
“That’s a very small thing. If someone from the outside looks at this they could think, it’s only a form. But this is a huge win for the councils when they’re not spending one, two or three hours every week – especially if you times that by 21, or 68, across the country. It’s big dollars and it’s big time.”
This article was first published in the April 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.