1. Executive summary

The building consent system comprises the people, processes and regulatory environment that together provide assurance that building design and construction work complies with the requirements of the New Zealand Building Code.

Like all good regulatory systems, the building consent system needs to operate efficiently, consistently and effectively. This means that the system must be able to deliver on its intended outcomes in a way that is fair and predictable, while minimising undue costs and burdens.

The system faces frequent criticism for being inefficient and unpredictable, adding additional costs and delays to building projects. However, there has been little robust evidence to support these claims and a lack of nationally consistent data about the consenting process.

To better understand the existing practices of those who participate in the building consent process and to explore the underlying causes of problems in the system, this evaluation gathered information about the experiences of key stakeholders across the system. Fieldwork was carried out between March and July 2021, and included interviews, surveys and site visits with Building Consent Authorities (BCAs) and sector professionals (builders, engineers, architects and designers).

The purpose of this evaluation is to:

  • understand how well the current system is aligned with its objective of ensuring the delivery of safe, durable and healthy buildings
  • explore the underlying causes of issues with its efficiency, predictability and effectiveness.

1.1 The building consent system is broadly aligned with its intent, but it is not operating as well as it could be

The primary objective of the building consent system is to ensure that building work is designed and carried out in line with the Building Code. It also aims to ensure national consistency in building standards and to encourage innovation in building work.

There was broad agreement from interviewees and survey respondents that the current system is achieving its intended outcome. This helps to provide assurance that buildings are safe, durable and healthy for building users. However, there is less certainty about whether the system is achieving its wider objectives. In particular, there was concern that the system was not supporting innovation and instead leading to an over-reliance on Acceptable Solutions.

At the same time, evidence suggests that the building consent process is not being carried out in a way that is efficient or predictable. While respondents were clear that the building consent system is broadly meeting its objective, they were also clear that there is significant room for improvement in how the system functions. Concerns from both BCAs and the sector about unexpected delays and unpredictable outcomes indicate that the system is not working as well as intended.

1.2 There is no single underlying cause of problems in the building consent system

Accounts of problems were often attributed to concerns about capacity, capability and behaviour across both BCAs and the wider construction workforce. Analysis of these issues found that they were driven by a range of contributing factors. Together, these drivers influence the way individuals understand and undertake their roles in the building consent system.

Our analysis identified the following key underlying drivers of problems in the system:

  • unprecedented levels of market demand are intensifying constraints within the system
  • increasing complexity in the building environment is contributing to gaps in capability and oversight
  • the devolved structure of the consent system is contributing to unpredictability
  • concerns about potential risk and liability are affecting the way that people carry out their roles in the system.

Together the issues are putting considerable pressure on the system

Ongoing demand across the construction industry is exacerbating capacity and capability constraints for both BCAs and the sector. At the same time, the building environment is growing increasingly complex, which creates challenges in both building and regulating. These workforce constraints are contributing to concerns about supervision and performance across the system and leading to a higher risk of errors in building work.

The decentralised system means that 67 different BCAs are each responsible for their own policies and resourcing, with each also having their own grounds for decision-making based on their appetite and capacity for risk. These factors are influencing the way people carry out their roles in the system, leading to concerns about inefficiency and unpredictability in outcomes.

Despite these problems, there is confidence that the system is delivering compliant building work

While there are complex issues impacting on the operation of the building consent system, there remains a high degree of confidence that the system is achieving its intended outcome of Building Code-compliant design and building work. Ultimately, this indicates that the system is contributing to effectiveness in decision-making, despite concerns about its efficiency and predictability.

Further consideration could be given to balancing the roles and responsibilities in the system, particularly with regard to quality assurance. This could contribute to a system that is more efficient, predictable and effective, and better able to achieve its wider objectives.