LINZ closes its public counters

Richard Worth has missed out on a chance to issue a media statement. Probably, that’s because the news was bound to piss off some people.

And so it was left to his department, Land Information New Zealand, to announce (if that’s the word) the closing of its public counters and handle any squawks of protest from the public.

Some LINZ offices are being closed, too, and staff numbers reduced accordingly.

The LINZ statement announcing the closure is dated 23 February. The public counters were closed the same day.

Obviously the statement was released with no blasting of trumpets and the news media (according to Alf’s Google search this morning) did not hear of it – or if they did, they didn’t bother passing on the information.

Radio New Zealand brought the news to its listening public this morning.

The record of LINZ’s announcement on the department’s website means we can’t complain it was done secretly.

As of 23 February 2009, it is mandatory for land transactions to be lodged electronically.

LINZ’s move to 100% electronic lodgement of land transactions through Landonline has meant that there has been a significant reduction of manual processing work carried out by our processing centres.

As a result, LINZ closed its public counters on 23 February 2009.

Limited counter services remain available in the Hamilton and Christchurch processing centres to allow exceptions to electronic lodgement to be received. Manual land transfer lodgements can be placed in the drop boxes provided, or by courier or post.

Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin are no longer designated as sites for lodgement of land registrations. Any lodgments sent to these offices will be returned to sender.

LINZ is committed to maintaining public access to our records. The closure of counters has resulted in some changes in how records are accessed and we have tried to ensure that any impacts on customers are minimal.

Minimal?

It seems the public can order copies of land records online, by fax or post.

Reading rooms at the five processing centres continue to remain open.

But – how about this for being helpful? – people wanting to visit a reading room will need to book an appointment.

Fair to say, LINZ has made no secret of its intentions.

The September issue of its Landline warned that – in line with the transition from paper lodgement to electronic lodgement – LINZ had advised staff of planned office closures in three centres.

The Wellington office will close in mid 2010, Dunedin in late 2010, and Auckland in early 2012.

From 2012, LINZ’s survey and title processing work will be conducted in the remaining Hamilton and Christchurch centres.

Office closures reflect the need for fewer processing staff as LINZ moves toward mandatory e-lodgement for titles transactions.

LINZ and the NZ Law Society’s Land Titles Committee have agreed to 23 February 2009 as the mandatory date for 100% electronic lodgement following the final release of Landonline Phase 3.

The news item at that time also said –

With essentially all land transactions being lodged electronically, public counters at the Wellington, Dunedin and Auckland offices will also close, in line with the 23 February mandatory date.

A detailed programme of work within LINZ is underway to determine practical electronic solutions for future public access to land records.

In the meantime, LINZ will continue to provide access to land records. The Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland centres will operate reading rooms until the offices close in 2010 and 2012. Reading rooms will also operate in the Hamilton and Christchurch offices while records are held on site.

The public will continue to be able to view records by appointment and will be able to order copies of land records online, or by fax or post.

Longer term, LINZ is working with Archives New Zealand to ensure the public’s continued access to paper land records

Those paying attention to the work of Parliament’s Primary Production Committee would have latched on to what was coming, too.

Its report on the 2008/09 Estimates Vote Lands says –

In the past few years, LINZ has been moving towards the electronic lodgement of all land
title transactions and survey plans using the Landonline system. In August last year, it
became mandatory for all documents relating to the sale, purchase, or mortgage of land to
be lodged electronically, and hard-copy lodgement is no longer available (with a few
exceptions). By the end of 2008, it will be possible to lodge 96.8 percent of transactions
electronically. Electronic lodgement of survey plans became compulsory from 1 September
2007.

We were informed that, as a result of these changes, the World Bank has ranked New
Zealand first in the world for ease of registering property transactions.

Whoopee. Good for us.

While the committee welcomed the availability of documentation in lower-cost electronic form, however, it said –

but we are concerned if some documents are made more difficult to access as a result. We therefore look forward to more digitisation of historical land documentation.

The NBR was among newspapers to be paying attention, drawing attention to an opportunity to make a buck from these developments.

As New Zealand is the first country to adopt electronic lodgement of land transactions, many components of the computer programs used for electronic lodgement were developed expressly for Landonline.

The Government has indicated that it is willing to give up some of its intellectual property rights in the software gratis to New Zealand companies to exploit commercially overseas.

The Government says if a company can develop the software further for specific application and create a commercial opportunity overseas this would benefit both that company and the New Zealand economy as a whole.

Some interest has been expressed by companies wishing to take advantage of this opportunity, but none has yet put forward a proposal.

But while it’s hard to accuse LINZ of being furtive with its online plans, it could have made a better fist of putting the public in the picture about what would happen on 23 February.

The same goes for Dick Worth, its Minister.

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