Michael de Lint / RESCON
RESCON is working with other key stakeholders to modernize Ontario's regulatory system.
This article is an update for a blog posted over the summer on a report produced by RESCON and Ryerson University published called “Modernizing Building Approvals in Ontario.”
A lot has happened since the July 5 release, but let's recap a few things before I reveal the latest developments.
SLOW APPROVALS MEAN LESS SUPPLY, LESS INNOVATION
The July 5 report noted that in Ontario even routine and technical approvals take too long resulting in less supply and less innovation than we would otherwise have.
For example, as I reported early this summer, the World Bank’s global Doing Business survey -- which compares the efficiency and effectiveness of building and planning regulatory systems around the world -- gives Toronto’s building permit process a ranking of 57th in the world. This metric applies to a very simple building type: a warehouse for storing books, located in an area already zoned or intended for this type of development. Delays in “applicable law”, particularly site plan control, were a major contributor to slow approvals in Ontario as reported by the World Bank.
ONE-MONTH PROCESS TAKES TWO YEARS In the joint RESCON Ryerson report, delays for residential projects with proper zoning, were often over two years with most of that delay attributable to routine and technical approvals including site plan control and other “applicable law”. Under the Planning Act, site plan control approvals should take only one month rather than the actual 2 years or so. This is only one part of a complex process.
RECAP: RESCON-Ryerson report recommendations
To recap, the RESCON-Ryerson report made three recommendations on how to modernize and speed up routine development and building approvals. These include:
1. More transparency, more compliance with timeframes by regulatory ("applicable law") agencies:
Routine approvals should be much faster. Builders and regulatory authorities can be more efficient if builders know the rules and expectations, and can submit complete, compliant applications. A 2013 report by Bousfields-Altus for the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA), made many good recommendations to improve the site plan control process, but they were not implemented. The recommendations included: risk-based timeframes; more transparency; better complete application requirements; better inter-agency coordination; better pre-consultation; more delegation; better “corporate culture.”
2. Pilot project to test a state-of-the-art e-permitting system:
While some municipalities have e-permitting systems the scope and coverage of e-permitting can still be substantially expanded among Ontario municipalities. A full-blown system similar to that in Singapore would include the following features: system is “open source”; applicants can submit plans with secure digital seals, using BIM (3D Building Information Modelling); applications and plans can be shared among all applicable law agencies on a common platform; system connects seamlessly with existing municipal, agency e-permitting software; system links to digitized, high resolution GIS-based maps; it allows applicants to undertake informal pre-application inquiries with agencies to assess development potential; applicants can track application status thereby enhancing accountability; regulatory agency staff have more time to address applicant questions.
3. More reliance on certified design and planning professionals for faster compliance, innovation:
With enhanced transparency, with faster and better access to information, qualified professionals (designers, planners) can certify that development and building plans are coordinated and comply with all regulatory requirements. This allows regulatory agencies to rely more on the completeness and quality of submissions, focus on process management, technical audits as necessary, with the result that approvals and innovation are speeded up.
The July 5 RESCON-Ryerson report touched on these recommendations. Phase 2 of the report, the development of a best practice guideline, will include more detailed information on best practices rooted in Ontario-specific circumstances, along with a plan of action as well as support for an e-permitting pilot project.
E-permitting, which has received quite a lot of attention recently, is in fact a key foundational element underlying the other key reforms listed above: streamlining the process and enhancing professional engagement in the compliance process. As part of the e-permitting pilot project there will be a review and streamlining of existing regulatory processes which will go part way to enhancing transparency and timeline compliance.
BRYAN TUCKEY TO CHAIR RESCON'S WORKING GROUP
RESCON has set up a small working group to steer the project.We are very pleased that Bryan Tuckey, president and CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), has agreed to chair the group. Bryan brings to this project experience as industry leader, a passion for streamlining and improving Ontario’s planning and regulatory system, as well as a broad planning background that includes a stint as assistant deputy minister in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
BILD president and CEO Bryan Tuckey
We are also very fortunate to have Clive Thurston, president of the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA), another key industry leader in the working group. Clive was on the Ministry of Municipal Affairs’ Building Advisory Committee (BAC) and was a former chief building official.
OGCA president Clive Thurston
Another key member of the steering group is Aubrey LeBlanc, chief administrative officer of the Ontario Building Officials Association (OBOA). He is also past president of the Ontario New Home Warranty Program and a former director of the Buildings Branch at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
OBOA and the Large Municipalities Chief Building Officials (LMCBO) will be key players in developing the best practice guideline and to further expand the use of e-permitting in Ontario. These organizations have helped to lead important modernization efforts in the past and will play a key role in this project.
Aubrey LeBlanc, CAO of Ontario Building Officials Association
We are also very pleased that we have a representative of the OAA -- Adam Tracey, manager, policy and government relations -- and John Morgan, P.Eng., representing the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE). Of course, RESCON President Richard Lyall, also will play a vital role in guiding the project.
RESCON president Richard Lyall
Another key participant will be Tim Moore, who has been retained by RESCON as a project consultant. Tim Moore is an architect, former chief building official in Markham and Pickering, a past chair of the Large Municipalities Chief Building Officials (LMCBO), and a former vice-chair of the Ministry’s Building Advisory Council (BAC).
The Working Group will be engaging subject matter experts as it develops the best practice guideline. We are very pleased that highly regarded expert on energy efficient building codes, Mike Lio, will be part of the group of subject matter experts. In addition, home-building executive Lou Bada -- who sits on RESCON’s board of directors -- will provide thoughtful and additional common-sense input. We expect to bring others into the network as well.
We hope to complete the Best Practices report by May 2018.
PROVINCIAL ROUNDTABLE SUPPORTS EXPANDED E-PERMITTING
At a recent meeting of a provincial roundtable looking at ways to streamline the development approvals process, there was strong interest in modernizing and speeding up provincial approvals. The roundtable is also looking at how to expand the implementation of e-permitting systems for municipal and provincial development approvals, including potential municipal pilot project opportunities.
To have the province engaged in this modernization initiative is very significant. RESCON’s Steering Group will assist the provincial streamlining and e-permitting efforts in every way it can.
BILL 154 WOULD ENACT NEW ONTARIO STATUTE
In September, the province introduced a package of amendments under Bill 154, the “Cutting Unnecessary Red Tape Act, 2017,” intended to reduce regulatory burdens on businesses while protecting the environment, health and safety. Bill 154, if passed, would enact a new statute called the “Reducing Regulatory Costs for Business Act, 2017.”
This proposed legislation incudes several key components including: streamlining compliance for small business; rewarding good actors with good compliance records with reduced requirements where appropriate; and providing businesses with the option to electronically submit any required documentation to the government of Ontario. This latter measure would require all Ministries including of course the “applicable law” Ministries and their agencies, to provide an electronic option. I had made a similar suggestion in my previous blog. This is a very important foundational step for an expanded and world class e-permitting system providing seamless interconnectivity among applicants, municipalities and provincial “applicable law” agencies.
ONTARIO BUILDING OFFICIALS (OBOA) CONFERENCE
In early October, OBOA held it’s annual conference in beautiful Huntsville, Ont. RESCON was invited to briefly discuss its approval modernization project and e-permitting in particular. Building officials will remember that over 10 years ago, the province established the Building Regulatory Reform Advisory Group (BRRAG), co-chaired by RESCON’s Lyall. It’s recommendations led to many of the changes later introduced through Bill 124, including a robust permit review timeframes for complete building permit applications. Generally, municipalities have done a good job in complying with these timeframes. When these timeframes were being developed over 10 years ago, it was well known that the biggest delay was from the prior approvals – “applicable law.” To address blockages and delays among the sluggish “applicable law” agencies, “e-permitting” may be just the strong laxative our system needs.
PILOT PROJECT FOR NOVEMBER
At the conference, I invited municipalities who were interested in participating in an e-permitting pilot project, to contact RESCON or the province – so far, four municipalities want to participate. We already know several other interested municipalities.
The Finnish firm Evolta, about which I have written in previous blogs, is interested in hosting a workshop to gather information from five or so potential pilot municipalities who want to participate in a proof-of-concept pilot project.
Just to recap an important point, the Evolta system links with existing legacy systems and is open-source. Several municipalities have already developed, at considerable expense, e-permitting systems. Evolta’s approach is to link in to these existing systems, connect to other municipal and provincial applicable law agencies in a seamless fashion. There may also be a possibility of providing some more consistency among existing municipal e-permitting systems, something that is important to developers and builders operating in many municipalities.
Evolta, juggling business trips to places like Singapore, Hong Kong and Norway, is available for workshops between Nov. 22-24 . These interactive workshops will be a useful input into any provincial streamlining work. The intent of the workshop is to work toward developing a world-class, BIM-enabled, e-permitting system that includes links to applicable law agencies.
CONTACT ME TO ATTEND
If you want to attend this interactive workshop, please let me know as soon as possible. We will also invite some industry representatives and hope to engage some applicable law agencies.
Michael de Lint is RESCON’s director of building regulatory reform and technical standards. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.