Monday, February 09, 2015

Territorial Local Authorities (TLA's) and Risk Assessment

One aspect which has quite a lot of bearing on TLA cost structures is that of the attitude to risk.

The current attitude is rules-based, which has a number of undesirable consequences:

  • Every single proposal, for anything, has to be 'processed' and set against known rules.  Cost #1, as such processing is staff-intensive.
  • Decisions resulting from this 'hold up against known rules' are not easily challenged.  So truly dire decisions are usually just swallowed by applicants.  Cost #2, as optimal solutions are almost by definition, not taken.
  • No clear or known rule = no decision, plus a protracted consultation to plug the gap with yet mo' Rules.  Cost #3 - mo' staff..
  • Time = money, a concept any banker will be happy to explain, and all of the above adds mucho Time.  Cost #4, but as this falls on Applicants, Council staff simply don't care.  Their salaries arrive with the regularity of a sunrise..
  • While discretionary powers exist (Schedule 1 to Building Act 2004 is a good example) to end-run Rules, they are so rarely exercised that in practice these worthy provisions may as well have been repealed for all the use they get.

The alternative is a thorough exercise in risk assessment, which acts as a drafting gate for proposals.  A quick risk assessment, if decided to be low risk, should result in applications being waved straight through.

A useful example is single-storey timber-frame residential builds:  houses to y'all.  In Christchurch, my estimate is that 70% of these pre-dated modern building codes:  they were either unconsented (pre 1970's) or lightly consented (1970-90's) by the old, sensible TLA's of the era.

These structures have, in Christchurch, been through a perfect risk assessment via a series of Gaia-initiated wobbly moments.

Subtracting exogenous sources (URM chimneys, rockfalls etc) no-one died from a cause attributable to a single-storey timber-frame residential build structural failure.  Therefore, such structures are demonstrably low risk, however constructed.

So, despite the plethora of new requirements for such structures, every single one adding its own layer of cost, the net benefit of today's build versus a 1950's comparable build in a future quaky event, would be close to zero.  All cost, no benefit.

The logical regulatory outcome of this should be to include single-storey timber-frame residential builds in Schedule 1 to the Building Act 2004, on the grounds that they are inherently (and demonstrably) low risk exercises.  Just like a verandah. pergola, carport, shed.

But this would require a number of attitudinal adjustments to TLA staff culture:

  • No Mo' 'our way or no way'
  • Assessments open to swift challenge (a Low-Risk Claims Court approach)
  • Low risk = low fees, fast turnaround, layers of cost removed.
  • Staff become enablers, not obstacles.

But enough already.  One can tell from this simple example that we will wait a long time to see such a change.  We'll see trailer parks with tiny houses (which end-run the PooBahs), before we see a risk-based TLA approach.....or lower rates.

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