Getting an onsite grey water approval in a residential setting in Auckland is challenging. Auckland Council is very risk adverse (and probably rightly so) when it comes to items such as this as they have to take the long view and their primary concern is public health, safety and well being.
The Living House has been through a monster process trying to get an approval for an on site grey water discharge system.
To start with a Resource Consent (application number 51129) for this project was initially submitted to Auckland Council in August 2016 with an on-site waste water treatment design consisting of a separate black water and grey water treatment system with an emergency back up to Watercare sewer. Through a series of small mix ups a separate discharge consent was not applied for at the time of the Resource Consent and the on-site waste water treatment was initially considered as part of the Resource Consent application.
During the initial review process of the Resource Consent we were advised by Auckland Council to get the on-site waste water design reviewed and approved by Chartered Civil Engineer with experience in on site waste water treatment. We undertook this process (at considerable expense) and re-submitted the on-site wastewater design with the Section 92 queries with the Resource Consent for review and approval.
Subsequent to this we were then advised this matter could not be addressed as part of the Resource Consent and that a separate Discharge Consent would need to be applied for. We therefore applied for this Discharge Consent using the above peer reviewed on site waste water design on 16 November 2016.
Discharge Consent Documentation
Final Decision & Plans
Unlike our discharge consent getting building consent was a piece of cake! I think we have the previously Manukau Building Consultants Limited to thank for that. They were awesome. We did have one RFI which was hilarious in some places, and had some very fair questions in other.
Final Decision & Plans
Summary of the Living House's interactions with Auckland Council
The Living House has had a remarkably turbulent relationship with Auckland Council. Veering wildly from really positive to really negative. Many of the staff that we have interacted with at council have been wonderful, really positive and understanding. However as an organisation I have to say that Auckland Council appears to be one big fat mess with so many departments and staff that no one seems to know who does what, who needs to talk to who, and no one with any ability for anyone to think outside the square. The only aspect of Council that has worked really well for us has been our Building Consent through Manukau Building Consultants. However they have now been sucked back into Auckland Council proper so I expect the sensible nature of that organisation/ department to change soon.
I think the biggest learning that I have had trying to undertake an exemplary green building with Auckland Council is that they could really benefit from putting together a specialist department that can deal with all green building projects from resource consent all the way through to building consent and completion. This department should have a selection of specialist staff who are interested in green building and are keen on working towards solutions, rather than hurdles. The staff should be able to cope with subdivisions, land use, discharge and building consents and inspections. There should be faster consenting times when using this department as well as reduced fees as everything would be streamlined and considerably smoother. Take a read at all the dramas that we have dealt with when trying to get 3 different consents issued out of different parts of Auckland Council. Surely this could have been done better!
At our resource consent pre-app meeting we should have been flagged as a project of interest and sent off to a specialist team who would work with us through our entire project! A learning opportunity for you perhaps Auckland Council!
It is not a cheap process to try and do anything with Auckland Council. Here is a summary of the direct Auckland Council costs that we have incurred so far. And we will also have to pay ongoing monitoring costs on our discharge consent! People keep talking about building affordable housing. Well if an affordable house is supposed to be $500,000 how on earth are you meant to be able to build those if 1/10 of your available funds are spent at Auckland Council before you can even start and do anything. And remember this is just the Auckland Council fees. We have also spent money on specialist consultants to get approvals from Auckland Council. And they have totalled to an additional $15,000 in our case. However I personally have done 99% percent of the work as we couldn’t afford to pay consultants to do this work for us. If add in all the other fees and charges that we should have paid our project to date would have cost $156,000 just to get consent. 31% the cost of an ‘affordable’ house. Anyone else think we have a consenting fee crisis in NZ?
30 July 2016: Application for Resource Consent to subdivide 119 and 117a into 3 sections.
Woo hoo, the very start of the Living house project. Formal application for resource consent to subdivide. However also the start of a long and tortuous process with Auckland Council.
15 August: Section 92 issued on the Resource Consent
9 October 2016: Living House response to 1st Section 92
27 October: Auckland Council response to 1st Section 92 response.
Living House response to this response!
7 November 2017:
In the Living House’s original application for resource consent we tried to include our on site treatment of black and grey water as a permitted activity. The fact that this needed to be treated as a separate discharge consent application was not picked up for quite a long time by Auckland Council until 7 November 2016 wasting a fair bit of time in terms of the process of the Resource Consent.
8 November 2016: Application for a discharge consent
Cue urgent application for a Discharge Consent. The discharge consent has been a disaster from start to finish. We only found out that we needed one of these in the middle of the resource consent process and hastily applied for one. It all started off well, but then started to go downhill quickly with a series of Section 92 queries being issued.
14 November 2016: Approval to subdivide received from Auckland Council
November 2016: Pre-Start Meeting for Resource Consent
To start with we couldn’t get any traction with anybody in arranging a pre-start meeting. We emailed all the email addresses listed in the resource consent to arrange this and never had any replies. We tried ringing the call centre and got told to submit an application form to a completely different place, which also had no result. Finally after repeatedly ringing and refusing to be put off I got put through to someone who had never heard of our application. The put us onto someone in development engineering who insisted that we had to have the pre-start meeting before we could do anything on site. Fair enough I said, however I have been trying to arrange this meeting for weeks and I have a digger coming to site next week to dig out for water tanks. You can’t start until you have a pre-start meeting she said again. Like hell I said!
26 November 2017: Discharge Consent fees
Even though we have indicated that all invoices should be sent directly to us, Auckland Council starts sending all information in relation to our discharge consent application to our original waste water engineer who had stopped working on the project!
5 December 2016
At the prestart meeting (when it finally happened), the Auckland Council Representative (who we found to be very sensible and pragmatic) advised us to ‘take back’ our application to Watercare for approval to connect to their system and stated that for developments of 3 houses and less that Auckland Council did all the inspections and sign offs. We therefore rescinded the application that we had previously made to Watercare on the basis of this advice.
We specifically asked the Auckland Council rep during the pre-start meeting if he needed to inspect the connection to the new sewer before it was covered up. He advised that we should contact Auckland Council and give you the opportunity to undertake a physical inspection, however he also stated that the team was very busy and understaffed and therefore may not come out to actually inspect the works and that we should take photos. When the connection to the sewer was being made we contacted Auckland Council to arrange a site inspection (email attached) however we received no response to this request so we assumed that you were all too busy to respond proceeded with making the connection, taking photos as evidence of the works. Of course this matter was pulled up as a problem when we were trying to sign off the Resource Consent works!
20 December 2016:First Section 92 on the Discharge Consent
The first section 92 seemed to be a bit of a legal hurdle with me having to explain to Auckland Council why our site should be even allowed to apply to discharge grey water on site.
December 2016 / January 2017 : Field Amendment to Resource Consent for approved stormwater design
We also tried to do a minor field amendment to the stormwater plans and this was just one big drama from start to finish. We had some excellent advice from one of the council engineers on how to do this, but once I submitted the official form to council it again went into a black hole and no one seemed to do anything about it. After much chasing, and a bit of jumping up and down, I finally managed to get an approval out of council, the day before we were due to implement the change that we wanted to make!
The delay in all of this was not helped by the fact that our original contact for the field amendment went on leave for a couple of months and then the contact that we were passed onto ripped their Achilles heal just after they had been brought up to speed on our project. Rather than bringing a third person into the situation Auckland Council told us to wait until the first person came back from leave.
2 February 2017: Second Section 92 on the Discharge Consent
The second section 92 was a lot more technical and raised some fair and valid questions, which we duly responded to. And I truly thought that that would be the end of it. However we were then called into a meeting where it all started to go haywire.
A seemingly adamant viewpoint from Building Control appeared to be that out house is required by the AUP (OP) and the Building regulations to connect to the Watercare Sewer and therefore that no onsite greywater system or composting toilets will be approved at the Building Consent phase. In fact it was stated in one of our meetings that Building Control said it didn’t matter if they issued a discharge consent that a building consent would not be approved with greywater treatment and disposal or composting toilets.
We think we have side stepped that particular issue by finding an email from Watercare which seems to indicate that they have legally investigated this and that it is in fact legal to not use the sewer.
16 February 2017: Development Contributions
The Living House sent a letter to the development contributions team at Auckland Council in anticipation of our DC assessment being issued asking for the sustainable nature of our development to be considered when assessing these fees. We received no response to this email/letter ever.
13 March 2017: Email to the Mayor on Development Contributions
The Living House emailed the mayor to give him the opportunity to be present at our ground breaking as well as getting involved supporting sustainable development through reduced development contributions not just for the Living House, but for all sustainable houses. Again no response.
April/May 2017:Resource Consent Final Inspection
We then tried to arrange the on-site final inspection. The meeting was booked and we had everybody present on site as requested (leaving all their current jobs to be present here) and nobody from Auckland Council turned up. No one rang us to advise us that no one was turning up. When we called 30 minutes later we were told that the person who was meant to be doing our inspection was sick and they didn’t know if anybody else was coming out!
17 May 2017:Letter to the Mayor on Development Contributions
After receiving no response to our previous approached to the Auckland Council development contributions team or the Mayor we wrote a second letter to the Mayor trying to engage with him and Auckland Council on this matter. This time we actually received an email response from the Mayor’s office advising us that someone was looking into this.
25 May 2017: Invoice for Development Contributions
Unfortunately the next piece of correspondence we received on this matter was our invoice for development contributions for $25,000 which included full charges for items like stormwater that we were not even connecting to.
1 May 2017: Application for Stage 1 Building Consent
We selected Manukau Building Consultants as our agent for our building consent and submitted a Stage 1 application for in ground plumbing and drainage and foundations. We chased up our application on May 10 to see how it was going to find out that it is in the queue to be lodged. Therefore it has been 10 days since I submitted it and it isn’t even in the system yet, let along having someone review and look at it!
The Living House ground breaking party was booked for June 30th and we needed to have Building Consent by that date so we could break ground!
May 2017: Application for s224c
So after having no final inspection we applied for our s224c certificate. However we found out that all of the emails that I was sending to the development engineering team at Manukau were pretty much being ignored with no one bothering to respond to me to tell me that you cannot apply for this via email (it has to be done in person apparently) and that it should be addressed to the planners not them. We only found this out after finally getting through to someone on the phone to chase up progress, thus finding out that there is nothing in the system and that we are therefore 1 month behind on this. And then we found out that Auckland Council would not sign off our s224c as the inspections required were not undertaken – even though we tried very hard to arrange for these inspections to take place (see above) .
June 2017: Building Consent - Stage 1
Manukau Building Consultants and Consenting Made Easy are amazing and get us the Building Consent that we need in time for our Groundbreaking party. Of course by then it was irrelevant as we found out about 1 week before our ground breaking party on June 30th that we needed piles for the house. So we needed to modify the consent anyway!
12 July 2017: Payment of Development Contributions
We held off paying our development contributions as really wanted to engage with Auckland Council on this matter. However as always they hold all the power and they wouldn’t issue the s224C certificate that we needed to sign off the resource consent and apply for title without these being paid. We therefore needed to pay that large total. We did however email Auckland Council again to see if they would release our s224C without this payment on the understanding that we were trying to negotiate on this matter. No response from either addressee to our email. A seemingly standard response for a lot of Auckland council staff. Just ignore incoming correspondence and hope it goes away!
18 July 2017: A response from Auckland Council
Finally someone responded on the matter of Development Contributions!
26 July 2017: First contact with the Chief Sustainability Office
The Living House also decided to approach the Auckland Council Sustainability Office to see if there was anything that they could do to support the crusade of the Living House to get Auckland Council to support sustainable development. Unfortunately their answer was basically that they really couldn’t do anything. Crazy answer really given the name of the department.
31 July 2017: Formal Response from Auckland Council (Financial Planning and Strategy)
We get a letter from Auckland Council not addressing any of our requests for a change in overall policy, but instead just focussing on our particular project. They advise that they are not interested in supporting sustainable development through the reduction of development contributions and feel that our contributions are fair and reasonable. They will however remove the stormwater component of the fee as we are not connecting to that system.
3 August 2017 : Our response to Auckland Council on development contributions
The Living House wrote a letter of response to Auckland Council for their 31 July letter further trying to explain why we felt that Auckland Council should reduce not just our development contributions but those of all green buildings.
7 August : Email response from Financial Planning and Strategy
On our 3 August letter stating that they realise there are a number of points you have raised and they will be contacting their colleagues on this before responding. However no response was ever received.
7 August 2017 : Open Letter to the Mayor
Based on the letter on 31 July we wrote to an open letter to the Mayor expressing our disappointment at the approach and attitude of Auckland Council to green building and again advocating for Auckland Council to walk the talk and financially incentivise green building. No response
27 August 2017 : Second open letter to the Mayor
We again approached the Mayor with another open letter on this issue. Again no response.
1 October 2017 ; Follow up letter to Financial Planning and Strategy
The Living House followed up with Financial Planning and Strategy as we hadn’t heard back from them since August. We again tried to get Auckland Council to further reduce the Development Contributions on our project by providing detailed explanation as to why (as a Living House) we were not be using the services that the development contributions are being charged to cover.
2 October 2017 : A response from Financial Planning and Strategy
Short summary was that they feel that Development Contributions have been accurately applied to our project and that our only official option now was to officially object to our rating using the Local Government Act 2002 objection process. So it doesn’t look as though Auckland Council is interested in supporting green building at all!
28 October : Payment Demand Notices from Auckland Council
Bless their cotton socks. Auckland Council start sending me payment demand notices and threatening our credit rating over the payment of an invoice that they have never sent us (in relation to the stage 2 building consent). You used to pay for your consent when you picked it up. Now you have to pay in advance apparently.
13 November 2017: Discharge Consent Invoice
We finally received the final invoice for the discharge consent. It was very large! And of course Auckland Council has been sending all of the correspondence on this consent to the original waste water engineer who hasn’t been working on the project for nearly 1 year now! And they have been chasing that poor guy for payment of the invoice and sending him demand notices!
Other than that we had two areas of concern in relation to this:
1) They are charging us for the 'specialist input' that they had to engage as they didn't have the time or knowledge to review our application in house. Surely this should be their own internal cost! We've already had to pay for two of our own consultants for this application.
2) The hourly rate they are charging for the in-house staff that did work on the application is $156/hr!!!!! $156/hr equates to a salary of around $320,000 a year. No wonder we keep hearing about this high Auckland Council salaries. I'm quitting The Building Excellence Group and I'm going to go and work for Auckland Council as they appear to pay better! Their hourly charge out rate is certainly higher than ours!
22 November 2017: The Living House writes to Auckland Council for reconsideration of Discharge Consent Invoice
After I calmed down a little bit we wrote a letter to Auckland Council asking them to please review their final consent invoice.
23 November 2017: Building Consent Inspections
We've been giving Auckland Council a hard time recently so time for a shout out for some good news. A big thank you to Doug, Darryl and Peter from the old Manukau Building Consultants who are now a part of Auckland Council for agreeing to waive some of our building consent inspections.
Up until now we have had our structural engineers performing inspections so they can write their PS4 and then Council inspecting the same thing as well. That's a lot of double up in terms of time and money. So it is great that council have agreed that if our engineers have inspected something then they don't need to inspect as well!
30 November 2017 : Stage 2 Building Consent Issued
Given the crazy nature of the Living House, and how far outside a 'normal code build' we are we could have been tied up in RFIs for months. However the consenting staff have been wonderful and after just 1 RFI we have been given our final approval to start building.
6 December 2017: Letter back from Auckland Council on cost of Discharge Consent
We received a response from Auckland Council. Surprise surprise, they don't want to do anything!