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Architects applaud reform of ‘archaic’ permit system

Plans to institute online process could boost construction sector
Guardian Business Editor

Published: Oct 03, 2013

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A government initiative to make the building permit approval process all online is being met with great enthusiasm by local architects, who say the move should speed up and make more efficient an archaic process that lags behind global peers and impedes construction projects.

Marcus Laing, partner with TDG Partners and chairman of the Association of Bahamian Architects, said the online shift would “make a whole lot of sense”, reducing time spent traveling to government offices to pay fees, and submit physical drawings of projects.

By allowing electronic submission of designs and other documentation, the creation of an online system would importantly permit the myriad agencies who must view the documents in order to receive approval to do so concurrently.

Amos Ferguson, president of the Institute of Bahamian Architects and owner of Ferguson and Co. architectural firm, said “almost anything would be an improvement” to the process that currently exists. He added that implementing an online system was a recommendation made to the government over four years ago.

The move, particularly if complimented by other reforms to impediments to the swift review of permit applications, should lead to more construction projects moving ahead at a time when the industry is in the doldrums, the architect suggested.

“Obviously when you are having building permits taking so long there are changes, meaning that sometimes these projects no longer go ahead, persons have canceled or changed their minds. That means theres a contractor who doesn’t get a job, carpenter, mason and laborer, who doesn’t work because it doesn’t go ahead, and when you multiply that by 100 or more that impacts the economy significantly.”

Their comments come after Minister of Works and Urban Development revealed in an address to the Northern Branch of the Bahamas Society of Engineers’ annual conference in Freeport on September 27 that a team of officers has been given responsibility to identify and implement an electronic solution to the “inconvenience” that currently characterizes the manual building permit application process.

“Managers and technical personnel from various stakeholder agencies recently traveled to the Miami-Dade, Florida, billing department for a first-hand view of their electronic system,” Davis.

“As a result, a team at the Buildings Control Division is presently preparing a request for proposals, which is expected to result in a major enhancement of the process for building permit approval.”

The goal of the RFP exercise is to achieve the ability to submit building permit applications electronically, including electronic versions of drawings; and to allow applicants will be able to pay building permit fees online, speeding up the process, said Davis.

Laing and Ferguson described experiences, where the current process can take anywhere from four months to two years for approvals to be given for construction projects to move ahead. Documents are considered by around four different entities or agencies, including the Building Control Division, Department of Physical Planning, Environmental Health and the Town Planning Committee, and each presently has to wait for the former to finish their review before undertaking their own, slowing the process considerably.

“In jurisdictions, internationally planning departments receive documents digitally, and it allows departments to review things at the same time. Here, sometimes, it can sit on a desk for weeks; someone goes on vacation; someone else loses the drawings... an online process should expedite the service dramatically,” said Laing.

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