10 council-friendly building application tips
Are you planning to build a new home or improve your existing one? Before you consult an architect, a quick read of our tips may help you secure a quicker, less costly and drama-free approval from your local council.
The lead up to building is a busy and exciting time and you’re in control. You (and your partner) choose the finance provider, architect, builder, and design and layout of your new home and its fixtures and fittings. Unfortunately, once your plans are submitted to council for approval you’re no longer in the driver’s seat and as a passenger, it can be a long ride with an unknown arrival time!
Not knowing how long council will take to approve your plans is frustrating and inconveniencing, as you’re keen to get the job started and you’re unable to set a start date with your builder. Unfortunately, many people experience uncertain processing times and long delays, largely due to requests for amendments and additional information, which ultimately extends a project’s completion date.
Across Australia, approval processing times vary greatly between councils and applications. Take NSW for example: in 2014/2015, while the average was 48 days (according to NSW government statistics) some councils took over 100 and one in three applications were returned for further information resulting in an average additional delay of 52 days.
If you’ve already bought your block of land or home you plan to improve, you can’t choose or change your council nor improve their determination times, but you can create an application that will be easier and quicker to process. Read on to find out how.
TIP 1: Be realistic
Take a deep breath and accept that preparing an application that complies with local council regulations and requests is going to take some time, money and effort, mostly on your part. “Get your plans as compliant as possible before you submit them to council,” recommends Tom Franklin, a developer of luxury residences in Sydney, Perth and Surfer’s Paradise.
TIP 2: Hire a town planning consultant
While your architect can design your dream home complete with Jamie Durie-inspired indoor-outdoor patio, designer kitchen with hydroponic vertical garden and private parent’s retreat, a town planning consultant, or town planner, can help make it a reality.
“A town planner can assess your site and prepare all the required accompanying documentation ensuring it meets the local council planning and development codes and regulations,” Tom explains. “I always hire a town planner to create the SEE.”
The SEE is the NSW Statement of Environmental Effects, a written report required to accompany development applications. Other states have similar reports, including the Residential Development Provisions or ResCode in Victoria and MyDAS in Queensland.
A town planning consultant can also identify and investigate any site-related issues, explain how they can be addressed and recommend other specialists such as engineers, arborists and environmental consultants to provide viable solutions. Issues that commonly need addressing include compromises to your neighbours’ natural light, views and access; drainage; water courses; heritage orders; easements; and minor impacts on the surrounding environment.
“Another benefit of getting a town planner on your team is that many have previously worked within or alongside local council and have valuable inside knowledge,” adds Tom.
TIP 3: Do your homework
Read up on your local council’s application requirements, planning and development regulations and your site – you’ll be surprised how much information is available on their website. Some councils even provide handy application checklists and guides on sustainability, heritage buildings, fire and flood safety, swimming pools, building standards and environmental considerations. Most of these resources are free and readily available if you own land or a home in their area.
TIP 4: Check out homes in your local area before you book your architect
Some councils with older suburbs in their jurisdiction (think Sydney’s Mosman, Melbourne’s Hawthorn, and Brisbane’s Paddington) have a strong focus on preserving the original streetscapes and period style, so it’s not surprising that submissions for modern designs lacking any of the dominant local design features may be knocked back. “This situation has resulted in the popular solution of retaining the original, period style front of the house and adding a modern extension to the back,” explains Tom.
TIP 5: Get on council’s good side
Develop a good working relationship with your local council’s planning and development and administration teams. Engaging with respect, clarity and honesty and taking on board and accommodating their requests will help you and your town planning consultant receive vital information, feedback and assistance in a timely manner. “It’s also important not to get council’s advisory team offside, as some or all may be assessing your application.”
TIP 6: Create an action plan and establish deadlines
Professionally and proactively manage your application’s preparation. Create an action plan and establish deadlines with your architect and town planner, chase up overdue information and tasks, and regularly check your application’s progress. Remember, you’re the boss of this project!
TIP 7: Meet with your local council’s planning and development team
Make an appointment to discuss your plans with your local council’s planning and development team and, if your council offers a pre-development application advice service, book a consultation. This is the perfect opportunity to ask questions, have your plans checked and non-compliant features identified. Transparency is key to receiving accurate advice so the more information you present the better: take site and internal plans, elevation drawings, images of your proposed structure, and a description of the site, surrounding area, existing structures, potential impacts to the environment and neighbours and site specific issues and how you intend to address them (all prepared with the help of your town planner).
Ask if they have any suggestions to improve your application, listen attentively to their concerns and accept requests to alter your plans graciously – which can be challenging when you’re feeling disappointed or annoyed. After the meeting, collaborate with your architect and town planning consultant to alter your plans and address issues while maintaining your desired design.
If you are unprepared to make the requested changes, inform the council as soon as possible and organise a meeting pre-submission. Your town planner may be able to help you prepare for this meeting by providing tips on negotiating a compromise.
TIP 8: See it from council’s perspective
Review your plans and accompanying documentation from the council’s perspective. Council won’t be focusing on your tapware and tile choice but they will apply a sharp eye to your build’s size, position, building to land ratio, exterior design style in relation to the streetscape, impact on the surrounding environment and your neighbours. Reviewing your application through their eyes will help you identify issues which will reduce the chance of your application being returned for amendments and additional information, which will cost you time and money.
TIP 9: Inform your neighbours before they’re notified by council
Organise a face-to-face meeting at their convenience to present and discuss your plans. They will naturally focus on how they will impact on their property and lifestyle, particularly natural light, views, privacy, noise and access. Wait until they voice any concerns before explaining how you will address them. Your efforts to be considerate, consultative and transparent may earn you brownie points when council later present your neighbours with the opportunity to approve or object your plans.
TIP 10: Patience is a virtue
And last, but not least, keep in mind that most council staff prefer a quick and drama free process as much as you and have confidence that with this plan of action you’ll be one of the few who receives an approval in less than 48 days! Keep Calm and Imagine your New Home!