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Government agencies team up to streamline building permit process

Friday 31 May 2024 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Environment, National

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Government agencies team up to  streamline building permit process
National Environment Service (NES), Te Marae Ora (TMO), and Infrastructure Cook Islands (ICI) attend a workshop in 2023.NES/24053025

In a move aimed at streamlining the building permit approval process, new homeowners will no longer need to submit four copies of their building plans.

Following a quarterly meeting in March to strengthen the coordination and management of the permitting process for development across the three agencies of the National Environment Service (NES), Te Marae Ora (TMO), and Infrastructure Cook Islands (ICI), it was agreed to reduce the number of copies of building plans required for the process approval to build.

These agencies are mandated as permitting authorities under the Public Health Act 2004, Infrastructure Act 2019, and the Environment Act 2003 respectively.

Effective July 1, 2024, the requirement of building plans has been reduced to two, a change expected to simplify the approval process, a statement said.

Reducing the number of building plan copies is a welcomed development for aspiring homeowners.

A woman preparing her building plans says, “This decision is great, this will reduce our costs and is a step towards a more user-friendly approach to building my home.”

For over a decade, the building process required four copies of building plans – each agency kept a copy.

“Modern technology allows us to keep electronic copies and we want to reduce the cost to the applicant where we can,” said a spokesperson.

This is part of a larger piece of work to improve development practices, the spokesperson added.

“There is a raft of legislative updates happening across agencies such as a new Health Bill, an Environment Bill, a Building Bill, a Solid and Hazardous Waste Bill, and Infrastructure Regulations. While these new pieces of legislation, regulations, and standards are under development, we are taking this time to reflect on governance as well.”

Last year, two workshops looked at the kind of development rules that should be in place and the governance of the permitting system.

The first involved discussions on development rules and identified the problems seen across the landscape for example soils being washed into lagoons. 

Participants then worked to identify the causes followed by solutions – for example, employing sediment and erosion control practices and controlling vegetation clearance reduces soil erosion and therefore sedimentation of the lagoon.

The second workshop considered bringing the three regulatory agencies under a single roof, due to the issues arising from having these at three separate locations.

However, all three agencies decided not to examine this move further but instead work on the issues aimed at improving efficiencies and monitoring both the process and developments.

“The first change for the public is to reduce the building plans to just two for the building permit process; other changes are to internal processes which don’t affect the public,” the spokesperson said.

“We look forward to continuing improvements to our process and development guidelines and will communicate these to the public over time.”

The Ministry of Infrastructure Cook Islands is responsible for managing and implementing programmes of work focused on improving and maintaining public infrastructure in Rarotonga and related policies and practices throughout the Cook Islands. 

Building in the Cook Islands is legislated for by the Building Control and Standards Act 1991, the Building Control and Standards Regulations 1991, and the Building Code 2019.

  • Melina Etches/Media Release