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Hastings' new Plansmart consenting system: 'thinking smarter not harder'

Hastings District Council recently introduced Plansmart, a new building consent pre-lodgement system that aims to improve the efficiency of the building consent process, by ensuring the Council receives only complete building consent applications.

Council Community Safety Manager Malcolm Hart says about half of all building consents have to be suspended because critical information has not been included, and incomplete applications clog the system for others.

'Over time we expect to see a reduction in the number of consents being suspended and an improvement of our process efficiency. That has to be good for applicants and the building industry in general,' says Malcolm.

Plansmart involves a new pre-lodgement checklist. Applications can still be received by mail or in person, and applicants can also choose to meet face-to-face with a senior building controls officer. In either case, only complete consents will be lodged.

The pre-lodgement checklist notes any applications without all the agreed information, and the application and a copy of the checklist go back to the applicant with an explanation of what is missing.
'In the past we would suspend the consent while we waited for the information, so in this way our system can be freed up and building officers can be left to focus more on complete applications,' says Malcolm.

Professional consent applicants get an added incentive. If six consents are lodged without requiring additional information, the applicant gets priority status. Their applications are then fast tracked and processed as a priority over other building consents.

Another innovation is checking the application up front to see whether a resource consent is required. Where issues are identified relating to the District Plan or other licensing requirements such as health or trade waste, the applicant is notified. They are invited to consider delaying their application for building consent until the resource consent issues are resolved, although the Council will still accept the application.

This means applicants are better informed and they can decide on how best to proceed. Malcolm says there is nothing worse for an applicant than to lodge a building consent, only to find out 10 days later they also need to apply for resource consent.

The Department of Building and Housing is keen to support building consent authorities, who have spent the first phase of accreditation focusing on their own internal systems, in shifting their focus to customer service processes. The Government has made streamlining and improving the consenting process a priority.