Auckland Council limits house inspection bookings after developers created ‘nightmare’

Auckland Council has this month changed its building inspection regime by limiting the number of bookings for new developments or consents at any one time to four visits.

Jeff Fahrensohn, the council’s inspections manager, said that from last Wednesday developers or builders could now only book four inspections on their work in total at any one time, whereas before the numbers were unlimited.

“Previously, we didn’t have limitations and it allowed them to book as many inspections as they wanted which simply overloaded the system.”

Around 12 to 15 inspections by council officials are required for each new Auckland home including drainage, slab-down, walls-up, pre-lining, cladding, roof-on, lock-up and final inspection.

But developers and builders had been bulk booking jobs, seeking far more inspections than they needed just in case their work had failed or to suit their timing, he said

So although 12 to 15 inspections are required all up, developers were bulk-booking up to 40 inspections per house, Fahrensohn said.

“We addressed this issue because of the complaints we got from people waiting for inspections and due to delays growing.”

Each inspection costs $170, he said, although a cancellation fee of the same amount applies if the inspection is cancelled on the day it was booked for.

“They just filled the whole calendar with any day they thought they might need an inspection, regardless of the load that put on us,” he said.

Those bulk bookings were made due to a variety of factors including weather conditions that could delay work, material delays, contractors not arriving at sites and many other reasons, he said.

“That meant they would cancel inspections they didn’t need at the last minute and we had up to 300 inspections being cancelled every single day, which created a nightmare for us, because we were unable to juggle the inspectors’ workloads each day.”

The council completes up to 1000 inspections a day “and if you can imagine 300 of those getting cancelled, it’s been a nightmare trying to fill those spots, because we bring people forward every day to fill those spots”.

Naveen Goel is developing a multi-unit Auckland project at 78 and 80 Commodore Dr, Lynfield. He complained about the change, saying it now took longer than ever to get an inspection booking.

But Fahrensohn said Goel’s actions were precisely the ones that had resulted in changes to the system.

“This is a classic example for us,” Fahrensohn said. “He booked 66 inspections but cancelled 34, so more than half. When I look at that, I see 34 other builders have missed out on inspections. It’s just a behaviour thing. The system allowed it because there was trust built into the system.”

Fahrensohn said he could understand Goel’s frustration about delays “because there’s massive pressure on everybody”.

But it was Goel’s actions and those of others like him that cost so many others, he said.

Goel complained about the booking change, saying it favoured single house development consents “and makes it exceedingly difficult for multi-house developments to get bookings”.

Fahrensohn said the process would bring down the waiting time for inspections which would make it easier for multi-unit developers to book their inspections when they need them.

“But it’s going to take a few weeks to pull those wait times down. We’re aiming for a wait time of only four to five days, whereas now it pretty much depends where you are. A wait time of 10 working days applies currently across the whole Auckland region with two areas slightly over that.”

Goel is developing his six-unit townhouse scheme “and under the old system, we could get inspection dates only one month ahead. This itself was causing severe delays in our project. Now, under the new system, we would virtually have to halt construction until an inspection is over as we can’t book more than four inspections”.

The Government made a huge uproar about the housing shortage but the council keeps creating more bottlenecks, Goel complained.

“The country can ill afford the further inordinate delays that are being caused through this new booking system.This is otherwise also not fair to multi-housing development which are under one building consent and unfairly favours single house developments.Delays also mean higher costs and thus higher house prices.”

Fahrensohn said 12 new inspectors had been employed recently and were undergoing training “and more are being recruited as we speak. There are about 150 maximum inspectors but we’re down about 12 at the moment which is why we’re training them”.

Goel said of delays: “This is an issue which will cause huge problems for all developments in Auckland and has arisen only due to the mismanagement and failures of Auckland Council.”

But Fahrensohn pointed to Goel for over-booking then cancelling jobs.

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