It seemed like a simple enough job - building a block retaining nine metres long and rising to about two metres high at its tallest point. The wall was to tidy up a crumbling bank that had been excavated to give site access for house repairs after the Christchurch earthquakes.
Well, it seems that these days, nothing to do with building and local councils is easy. Everything is complicated by layers of rules and regulations that create obstacles and costs - even simple jobs like retaining walls (and a kids tree house for that matter).
An article published by Stuff said the Banks Peninsula property owners gave up on their retaining wall project once they discovered the costs of obtaining the consent was going to be an astonishing $20,000 - and that's just to get permission! The cost to actually build the wall was less than the consenting costs! Here are some of the cost details as reported.
The council required a deposit of $1,400 up-front for the building consent. Included were various building levies and inspection costs, charged out at an hourly rate of $200 which the council would no doubt justify by saying it needs to pay staff salaries and all of the other cost that go with providing a service and running a bureaucracy.
After lodging their building consent application the homeowners were told they also needed to obtain a resource consent, which the council said was required because the volume of earthworks involved breached the rules in their District Plan. That required the payment of a second deposit of $2,500 and there was no guarantee that the council's cost would not increase if complications arose or an "affected party" objected to the proposed retaining wall.
As part of the resource consent application the Council required the homeowners to supply a sediment management report from a suitably qualified sediment management expert. That cost was not yet known but it would be fair to assume that such expertise would come at a cost of a few thousand dollars rather than a few hundred.
And they were asked to get a boundary survey; cost $4,025.
And then there was iwi approval. That involved the payment of an $800 fee because their property was within an iwi management plan area. That is an area that is broadly defined and includes sites of significance to Maori. It's broadly defined because the exact location of those sacred sites is kept secret lest those with ill intent raid or desecrate them. So, basically the $800 fee is for iwi to say whether they have an interest in the retaining wall or not. If not, $800 would be the end of the matter. If the nine metre long retaining wall is on a site that iwi consider culturally significant, then consultation with iwi would be required. Iwi would have to prepare a cultural impact assessment report, and charge the landowner accordingly, and maybe have a hui or two - at the landowner’s expense - to discuss the matter and so on.
And of course, given the complexity of the council’s requirements, our humble homeowners would need to hire a planning expert to manage the process and translate the esoteric terminology that is so important when assessing the cultural and environmental effects of their proposed retaining wall. It requires years of training to master this language and appreciate the nuances of these esoteric concepts, which of course does not come cheap. The homeowners were quoted $6,000 by a suitably qualified expert.
In the end it was all too much for the homeowner. They did what most people would do. They gave up. They decided to put up with an ugly and crumbling bank. The down-trodden wife, said, "We feel a bit sickened by it, and sorry for other people who have to go through this."
Unfortunately other people are going through exactly this process, lots of people, everywhere, not only in Christchurch. When challenged about it, Council planners will usually say they are simply putting their District Plan into effect. The District Plan writers say they are simply putting the Resource Management Act into effect (and conveniently overlook the fact that it is they that set the threshold on things like the volume of earthworks which trigger the need for a resource consent). There is in fact a long line of rule makers all pointing a finger at someone else.
Last in line is Parliament - the 120 people that we elect to run things properly. The question is why they are not doing something about it?. Do they think it's OK for a homeowner who wants to build a simple retaining wall to have to pay $20,000 to obtain consent? Surely they can't possibly think it's OK, so why do they allow this madness to persist?
Frank Newman, an investment analyst and former Councillor on the Whangarei District Council, writes a weekly article for Property Plus.