Michael de Lint / RESCON
E-permitting is creating a buzz all over Ontario’s residential design and construction industry.
In a rescon.com blog published in June, I wrote about expanding e-permitting across the province, which was one of three recommendations in RESCON’s joint report with Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Research and Land Development. This blog, which included a reference to Singapore’s state-of-the-art e-permitting system, CoreNet, drew attention from Finland’s Evolta, one of three companies bidding to enhance Singapore’s system.
After emailing back and forth and writing another blog highlighting what we discovered about Evolta’s e-permitting system in Finland, CEO Jani Muhonen and COO Jarkko Turtiainen flew to Toronto.
Evolta COO Jarkko Turtiainen presents on the Permit Plus e-permitting system at RESCON headquarters in Vaughan as builders, building officials and University of Toronto academics look on. At left, Evolta CEO Jani Muhonen.
Last week, they presented their system to residential builders and design professionals at RESCON headquarters in Vaughan. Later that day, they spoke with a crowd comprised of academics from the University of Toronto’s Building Tall Research Centre, builders and building officials from across Ontario.
The building officials came from all over Ontario including Burlington, Oakville, Vaughan, Markham, Richmond Hill, St. Catharines, Milton, Newmarket, Halton Hills, Clarington, Windsor, Whitby and Huntsville. A building official from the Town of Chapleau, in Northern Ontario, followed the presentation via our live stream on Facebook. The two-hour presentation elicited many good questions, all of which were answered with aplomb.
The next day, Muhonen and Turtiainen met with 20 senior bureaucrats and aides at Queen’s Park, where their 1.5-hour presentation was well received.
The duo talked about the Finnish system, Permit Point, which has been a big success in Finland:
- At least 240 Finnish municipalities, two-thirds of the country’s municipalities, use Permit Point which features two-way live communication between authorities and applicants.
- In these cities and towns, no paper is handled, the quality of applications is improved, there are shorter lead times, fewer inquiries and – most importantly – big cost savings.
- In the City of Vantaa alone, the number of permit applications has tripled but City Hall did not have to increase its staff.
Contrary to what you might expect, the Evolta e-permitting system does not involve the replacement of people with a computer system reminiscent of the omniscient computer “Hal” of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Evolta emphasized that in all of the Finnish municipalities using Permit Point, there had been no reduction in municipal or agency staff. Instead, staff was better deployed to provide a higher level of service, including responding to inquiries and helping applicants. Evolta’s system provides a high level of electronic functionality and transparency as well as real people who have more time to answer questions if they are not addressed online.
Builders have told me that e-permitting is great but you also need to provide person-to-person contact. The Finnish system seems to do this very well.
Environment Minister Kimmo Tiilikainen has said the system “has allowed the Finnish society to take a big leap forward.” According to Evolta, Permit Point users in the City of Vantaa are very happy with the “easy use of the system and the way it has sped up their applications process.”
MULTI-MINISTRY FINANCING IN FINLAND
In Finland, a key part of Permit Point’s success was that it received support and funding from both the Ministry of Environment (responsible for municipalities and building regulation in Finland) and the Ministry of Finance. A working group was established involving these two ministries, as well as industry and interested municipalities participating in a pilot project. “Applicable law agencies,” responsible for other approvals, were also brought in to the consultation process.
We believe a similar implementation process should be established in Ontario. A pilot project provides an opportunity for all parties to learn more about the e-permitting system, adapt it to both provincial and municipal priorities, then fine tune the system before full implementation.
Turtiainen makes a point. Blog writer Michael de Lint of RESCON, right, listens intently.
Queen’s Park, of course, has leverage over provincial “applicable law” agencies involved in the building and development process. These agencies could and should be required to provide information and maps, as well as permit applications on a common digital platform in order to streamline their interactions with each other, permit applicants and municipalities. This would be in addition to the traditional paper-based system.
According to Tim Moore, former chief building official for the City of Markham, former chair of the Large Municipalities Chief Building Officials Association: “The building approval system in Ontario has evolved into a complicated business that consumes a lot of time and resources. We need to modernize our public sector services and business practices here, like they have done in Finland and other countries.
“A comprehensive provincial e-permitting system is long overdue. The public and industry should be able to file permit applications and obtain building approvals from municipalities online using a common provincial platform linking municipal planning, building and applicable law agency approvals. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs, municipalities, approval agencies and the professional associations need to get engaged and work together on implementing a transparent, accessible, and effective e-permitting system in Ontario.”
Muhonen and Tutiainen plan to return to Toronto this fall. With the participation of the province and progressive municipalities in a pilot project, we have a golden opportunity to leap forward with an advanced e-permitting system providing the framework for further streamlining.
Michael de Lint is RESCON’s director of building regulatory reform and technical standards. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.