Local Government Building Approvals

Audit finding – Most permits were issued on time

LG entities issued permits in required timeframes

Between July 2016 and June 2018, the LG entities assessed applications and issued most permits within the required timeframes. We calculated the time taken to issue permits and found:  

  • about 98% of the 3,736 certified applications were assessed within 10 days. Nearly all had a permit issued
  • about 98% of the 1,069 uncertified applications were assessed within 25 days. Nearly all had a permit issued.

All LG entities have improved the timeliness of their assessments over the last 4 financial years (Figures 2 and 3). Our review of approved and refused applications showed Albany and Joondalup had relatively consistent assessment times, while Mandurah and Gosnells improved over the last 2-3 years in part due to lower numbers of applications. Between July 2014 and June 2018, the number of applications received by the 4 LG entities declined by 35%.

A future rise in building activity could put LG entities who take longer to issue permits at risk of not meeting the timeframes. Delays in issuing permits affect planning of building works and can lead to increased costs for applicants, particularly when they are renting and holding land.

Incomplete and incorrect applications often result in longer approval times

We found the LG entities took about 3 times longer to issue permits when they had to wait for more information from an applicant to assess an application. Around 75% of the information requests we reviewed related to incomplete or incorrect applications. This meant the majority of applicants could have avoided delays in their permit approvals if they had submitted complete and correct applications.

We reviewed 60 information requests for certified applications (Figure 4) and found:

  • 60% related to missing or inadequate supporting information in the CDC
  • another 15% related to incomplete applications such as mandatory information on home indemnity insurance or approvals required under building or health legislation.

In the last 2 financial years the LG entities formally requested more information for around 38% of certified and 47% of uncertified applications. While these requests allowed LG entities to pause the clock for up to 21 days, it did add to the overall elapsed time to process applications. 

Some requests for minor administrative errors could be resolved by informal requests (phone or email), which do not pause the clock. For instance, Albany adopted this approach advising us that they found it more efficient and customer-focused. In the last 2 financial years, Albany made fewer formal requests (32%) than the other LG entities (42%).

Reporting of permit information could be improved

All LG entities provided limited permit information to B&E, community and industry stakeholders. B&E’s Permit Database aimed to fill this gap by collecting permit information from LG entities in a consistent format and more efficiently, but:

  • only 8 metropolitan LG entities including Gosnells report data online to the Permit Database
  • another 88 LG entities from regional WA report manually to the Permit Database, however these entities represent only a small proportion of permit approvals.

B&E told us that metropolitan LG entities do not report to the Permit Database because online reporting requires changes to the LG entities’ permit systems, and manual reporting was not practical due to the large number of applications they received. A lack of reporting makes it difficult for B&E to assess LG entities’ performance against legislated permit timeframes and other building control activities. This also impairs transparency and accountability on this important aspect of regulation by public sector entities.

We also found LG entities could provide more permit information to the community and industry stakeholders. Although all LG entities included the number and value of permits issued in their annual reports, only Mandurah reported the percentage of permits approved within the required timeframes, and none included information on complaints, monitoring or enforcement activities. This meant ratepayers had little information on how LG entities manage and regulate permits.

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