The Regional District of Nanaimo is working on improving the time to process development permit applications. (PQB News file photo)

The Regional District of Nanaimo is working on improving the time to process development permit applications. (PQB News file photo)

Review to aid Regional District of Nanaimo with development permit application process

Consultant makes eight practical recommendations

The Regional District of Nanaimo had its development approval process reviewed by a consultant.

Christopher Sainsbury of KPMG LLP recently presented to the RDN board, on Oct. 11, a report that summarized their findings and recommendations.

The goal of the exercise was to identify opportunities for greater efficiency and effectiveness as well as do an assessment of the digital development application management platforms to support future implementation to determine appropriate fit and value.

The RDN board commissioned the review due to the number of complaints it has received from some developers, who are impacted by the long process to get development permits approved. The RDN received a grant from the Union of British Columbia Municipalities in the amount of $457,000 to cover the project that was divided into Phases 1 and 2 which was completed by the consultant, and Phases 3 and 4, which entail purchases of the software upgrade, wages for an additional staff, who would oversee the implementation of the recommendations, and staff training.

To develop a holistic 360-degree view of the current development approval process, the consultant engaged board of directors, conducted internal and external stakeholder surveys, interviewed staff and representatives from industry, jurisdictional analyses and comparisons, as well as looked at leading practices and policies.

Among the deficiencies revealed by the review includes staffing levels, particularly building inspectors.

“They’re overstretched and find it very difficult to recruit,” said Sainsbury. “This is actually a big challenge not just to the Regional District of Nanaimo but to many other organizations we spoke to.”

It also revealed the RDN’s procedures and guidelines are not formally documented, standardized or applied uniformly, which the study indicated can lead to inconsistencies. It has led additional steps and tasks that are not always necessary or efficient.

The RDN’s development approval process are also dependent on requirements from provincial ministries and agricultural land commission, that applicants are not fully aware of. Sainsbury said in conversation with ministry staff, they too are understaffed, which also contributes to the delays.

READ: RDN: Board aims to deal with slow approval times for building permits

Another problem area is the 2019 digital application technology CityView platform the RDN uses. Sainsbury said it’s slow, clunky in places and overly onerous with regards to mapping, slowing the process.

Sainsbury indicated at the midway point of their review, they’ve encountered 40 potential opportunities which he said was “a lot and expensive to cover.” But they manage to prioritize their findings and came up with a more consolidated set of practical and implementable recommendations.

The eight recommendations the consultants came up with: developing procedures manuals; develop process maps; better communicate submission requirements; update RDN website and education materials; review internal governance structures and decision making; review staff resourcing levels, start tracking application time and quality; and design, test, and implement upgrades to the CityView platform.

“We very much see these as foundational to the long-term success of the regional district,” said Sainsbury. “We did identify additional recommendations beyond these but I think a good focus to start with to put the regional district on a very strong footing going forward.”

Sainsbury added to successfully implement the recommendations, they will require dedicated resources allocated to them, an additional investment in time from staff and ongoing support from senior leadership.

The board agreed to move to Phase 2 and 3 of the project in accordance with the recommendations in the Development Approval Process Review final report.

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