By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Architects yesterday said their reform proposals would bring the Bahamas’ building permitting process “in line with first world countries”, one telling Tribune Business it was currently taking six months to obtain such approvals.
Andre Braynen, a member of the Institute of Bahamian Architects’ (IBA) executive, said the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2013 report had massively underestimated the time taken to obtain building permits in this country.
The number of processes, and time taken, to obtain building permits in the Bahamas, he told Tribune Business, were double the figures contained in the World Bank report.
“It does not take 120 days. It takes longer than that,” Mr Braynen said. “It’s taking me six months to get a building permit. I have something in Building Control right now from last year.
“And Building Control has more than seven stages [cited in the World Bank report] It has 14 steps.”
An IBA report, submitted to the former Ingraham administration, made numerous suggestions for overhauling the procedures and processes at the Ministry of Works’ Building Control Department (BCD).
These, the report said, would boost efficiency and reduce the time taken to obtain building permits, resulting in more employment, increased construction activity and greater revenues for the Treasury.
“The implementation of all or any of the suggested procedures will speed up the building permit and inspection process, and will result in increase revenue from BCD to the Treasury from the additional fees that could be charged for these processes,” the IBA report said.
“Note that this increase in revenue and the resulting efficiencies to the building permit process can be done without any increase in staffing at BCD, and can in fact free up staff at BCD to aid in construction and other inspection services.
“This would negate BCD from having to increase staff in any appreciable amount for the foreseeable future. All of the processes discussed here have been implemented elsewhere, including New York and Atlanta.”
Mr Braynen said the IBA report emphasised how various stages in the Bahamian building permitting process could be outsourced to licensed, qualified professionals registered with the BCD, such as architects and engineers.
“Most countries, and it does happen in the UK, they outsource building permitting when professionals are involved,” Mr Braynen told Tribune Business. “We don’t.
“What happens here is that many documents are vetted by other people at the Ministry of Works, and it ends up taking a long time to get building permits.”
The IBA report recommended a Professional Certification Programme similar to those used in many US cities, where registered architects were able to certify that building plans they filed were in total compliance with all laws and regulations.
Additional fees could be charged for this on top of the building permit fee, with the Building Control officer stamping everything as approved - if all is in order - within two business days.
“This would reduce the amount of time that one would have to wait for a BCD building permit by eliminating the process of BCD review and approval of the plans,” the IBA report said.
“Twenty per cent of all professionally certified applications would be selected for audit once a month by the Professional Architects Board (PAB) and the BCD.
“Any abuses of the Professional Certification Program would be considered ethics violations under the PAB and could be met with penalties, including the PAB not allowing the abuser to use the Professional Certification Programme.”
Mr Braynen told Tribune Business that the IBA also wanted to develop a ‘Residential Automatic Approval’ policy in the Bahamas.
Similar to Atlanta, permits for residential construction - one and two-family residences, and additions - would be automatically issued once a licensed, qualified architect was involved.
Additional fees would be involved, and all other necessary permits still required, but Mr Braynen said: “In Atlanta, from having a turnaround time of one month, they were able to cut the residential permitting down to a day.”
“Implementation of any or all of the recommendations in this report will move BCD in line with building departments in first world countries, will reduce building permit turn around times, and increase BCD revenue collection,” the IBA report said.
“By removing the onus from BCD as it relates to Department of Physical Planning and Department of Environmental Health, and putting these requirements on the design professional, as is done elsewhere in the developed world, BCD would not be hindered in its review process by delays from those departments.”
And the IBA report added: “The Design Professional would have the option of obtaining these approvals at an earlier time during the project, which would make the overall process much more efficient for the design professional and ultimately the public they serve.
“The processes proposed can all be implemented immediately by BCD. None are in contravention of any of the laws that regulate the construction industry.
“All will result in increased revenue collection from the Government departments involved in the building permit process.
“None of the proposed processes would require any additional staff at any of the government entities involved, and in fact in the case of BCD can actually free up existing staff to aid in other areas of BCD, most notably the inspection area and freeze staff levels for the foreseeable future.”