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Source: Auckland Council

While the building industry came to a standstill in COVID-19 Alert Level 4, remote building consents continued thanks to Auckland Council’s leading-edge technology.

Auckland Council Regulatory Services Director Craig Hobbs says the council’s ability to process resource and building consents and conduct virtual inspections during level 4 lockdown proved invaluable for staff and customers.

“Using online services and innovative digital applications, our staff have been able to work remotely to continue to support the building and construction industry in this difficult time,” he says.

A total of 400 technology-assisted remote inspections were performed during Alert Level 4. 

Normally, the council would do between 650 and 800 inspections per day across Auckland, however, with the restrictions on construction activity, the only work available to inspect related to essential services and owner-builders.

“The construction industry has only been back at work for four days and we are already back at 90 per cent of the booking volume we’d normally expect for this time of year,” Craig says.

“This is great news.”

Two months before the lockdown, council building inspectors were trained to do remote inspections on innovative digital platforms, like Artisan.

Artisan is a state-of-the-art mobile phone app and web solution, developed by BRANZ in partnership with Auckland Council, which allows builders to better manage the quality of construction works on site.

It supports the capture of photographs of key critical build elements which can be reviewed remotely through the web by inspectors. It also supports better quality work and the work is easier to monitor for inspectors.

General Manager Building Consents Ian McCormick says using Artisan and other software like Conqa and ZYTE, means staff could keep working through the lockdown instead of coming to a complete standstill.

“Not being able to get out in level 4 and do physical inspections only slowed us down a little – but our technology has allowed us to do everything else,” he says.

Craig says remote inspection technology is more cost-effective and customers will be encouraged to use it, moving forward.

“If the building project can be inspected and recorded online it saves the need for an inspector to leave their desk at all, which has got to be good for the economy.”

With COVID-19 having a deep impact on the building, construction and land development sectors, Chair of Auckland Council’s Regulatory Committee Councillor Linda Cooper says she is proud of the service council staff have provided in lockdown.

“The silver lining of this crisis is that it has helped us to speed up and streamline the flexible option to work from home and still provide Aucklanders a good service.”

Craig says staff “really stepped up”.

“The adaptability they’ve shown has been phenomenal and there’s been a very little negative impact from working remotely.”

A move to Alert Level 3 has seen physical building inspections resume, however, with strict guidelines in place.

“Before an inspector heads to a site they have to be assured the builder has the appropriate controls in place in terms of distancing and contact tracing and has addressed any safety issues. If the inspector gets there and is not comfortable with how the site’s operating, then they won’t continue with the inspection.”

Services available in Alert Level 3:

  • Digitally (no hard copies) accepting, assessing, approving, granting and issuing building consents, resource consents, certificates of acceptance, code compliance certificates, building warrants of fitness and engineering approvals.
  • Processing and digitally issuing all hard copy applications received before 24 March 2020.
  • Customer meetings and advice (e.g. Pre-Application meetings) will be undertaken by email, phone or online conferencing (e.g. Skype). Limited onsite meetings may occur at sites with appropriate health and safety measures in place, including physical distancing.
  • Remote and physical building inspections will be available. Physical inspections will only take place where sites can demonstrate that they are minimising the risk of spread of COVID-19 infection through social distancing. Our online booking tool has re-opened and is accepting bookings.
  • For four weeks, from 28 April 2020, Auckland Council is temporarily relaxing the rules around construction noise in the region, and construction hours will be extended. More information here.
  • Structural and development engineering input will continue into resource consent applications, building consents and assessment of engineering plan approval applications – including coordination of advice from Auckland Transport, Watercare, Healthy Waters, Parks, Community Facilities and all other technical inputs.
  • Inspections associated with compliance and monitoring will also resume.

MIL OSI