The council’s building consent issues have festered over the weekend, with comment from all comers. The Prime Minister waded into it, suggesting an intimate knowledge of Tony Marryatt’s inbox (PRISM?) Then Mike Hosking – always a font of knowledge – suggests that Wellington should be in charge in Christchurch, and that democracy isn’t a big deal. A Dictatorship of the Perfecteriat, if you will.

But politics aside for a moment, there is an ideological battle going on here. As Gerry says:

”We don’t want to see anything slow down – we want to see it go much faster, so we are going to have to get involved. It’s as simple as that.”

In the house on Thursday, Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson was questioned by Port Hills MP Ruth Dyson.

the whole aim of the Government is to make sure that consents are done properly and they are done without devaluing quality, but that they are done in a timely manner. I heard on Morning Report this morning that a particular Mark McGuinness from the Belgian Beer Cafe Torenhof took 89 days to get a consent through the council, and it was costing him $70,000 a week for that delay.

Now, most people would agree that getting things done quickly is desirable, but speed can’t come at the expense of quality. The Belgian Beer Cafe has come up a number of times in this debate. Is it bad? Yes. Should it have been done quicker? Most probably. Do we have any idea why it took so long? Somewhat. In terms of consent processing, is 89 days an outlier? I don’t know. Is it going to get quoted over and over again? Undoubtedly.

While this flared up as Gerry versus the council, I think that this issue of regulators versus red tape cutters is more important. If you take the consenting process off of the council, and establish a new, government-run body tasked with getting them processed in the shortest time possible, then you have taken away the last external check on building safety, the last step at which a plan can be challenged. Have we already forgotten what happens when the red-tape cutting ideologues take control of the building industry? Does cutting a week out of the consenting process mean we have to live with buildings designed by people who lied about their credentials?

If there is anything that we should have learnt from the disasters to hit the South Island in the last few years, it’s that we put red tape there for a reason: to reduce the risk of loss of life and injury when things go wrong, and to try and limit the financial damage to families and communities incurred in such situations.

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