Town Planning Terms Investors & Renovators Should Know

Renovations are a big job, and like all big jobs they require substantial planning before you get the satisfaction of taking a sledgehammer to your walls or begin tearing up the carpets. Councils across Australia are responsible for approving renovations and new building work for residential properties in their district.

You’ve likely heard terms like DA thrown around. While town planners offer specialist advise and it’s highly recommended you find a reputable planning expert to navigate the paperwork with you, it’s possible to learn the lingo and understand the basics for yourself.


Development Application

Before you can go ahead with your planned building work, you’ll need to submit your plans to the local council for approval. A Development Application (DA) will be a portfolio of architectural drawings, and also likely include an environmental impact statement, a waste management plan and other paperwork specific to your council’s requirements and property’s unique features. Brisbane City Council lists the following assessments as part of the Development Application: compliance, code, impact and council condition compliance.

Most residential projects have a straightforward DA process, although in rare cases a hydraulics or structural engineer may be involved to design infrastructure requirements like stormwater systems, where the block is a particularly challenging shape or in an underdeveloped area.

Your DA will be advertised at the front of your property and through other council-initiated avenues, as a way of alerting your neighbours and the wider community that changes have been proposed. Provided there are no significant objections and the council subsequently grants approval, you now move on to the next stage of the application process: the Operational Works.


Operational Works

The Operational Works (OW) sounds like you’re ready for action. In reality, this stage involves submitting further specifications to regulating authorities. The sorts of details you should have ready include exact building measurements, particulars of your building materials and where sewerage and other water works weren’t previously assessed, you’ll need to provide this information. Brisbane City Council lists a broad overview of areas to consider at this stage: engineering, architecture, environmental management, landscape and natural environment.

Like all stages of the renovation process, submitting this round of paperwork will involve a fee. Your local council website will outline the costs associated with lodgement and approval.


Will You Even Need A Development Application?

In order to ascertain whether you need council approval, it’s best to start with a property enquiry. This will lead you to discover your property’s zoning requirements and any character or area constraints.

In some circumstances, you may be exempt from an application. Self-assessable development falls into this category, and means you won’t require any documentation in writing from the council to go ahead with your work. Councils provide a list of criteria that must be met for your renovation to be considered self-assessable.

In all circumstances, it’s highly recommended you engage a qualified town planner to assist with your renovation or new build approvals. Since they navigate the vast documentation of approvals every day, they will be able to answer any questions and give your plans the best chance of being approved, first go.


Construction Certificate (CC)

This is what I call “putting the puzzle together”, where we submit detailed documents to certifying authorities for approval. If hydraulics and structural elements were not involved during the DA stage, they will need to come in at this stage, and those elements need to be detailed for approval. This part of the process also requires fees to be paid, which will be listed in the DA documents.

All of this needs to be submitted to certifying authorities for stage two approval. Once approved, the client then can engage a builder to start the work on site.


shutterstock_288769136Do all renovations need approval?

The short answer is no – but that doesn’t make it a simple answer unfortunately. The world of renovating is a bit of a minefield and it’s best to always check in with your local council regarding your plans as even removing trees can sometimes require permission.

When your home is your own, small renovations such as adding a deck or a pergola are mostly exempt, as are internal renovations – however if you are part of a strata plan, that may not always be the case, so again, it’s best to check first.

If there is potential impact for neighbouring properties, or if you are planning major works, development consent is likely to be required too, so it’s best to have a chat to a draftsperson who can help you with the process, or to run your proposal past a council planner – this will give you an easy, and less costly, answer before you go to the effort of submitting a DA.


What if there is a body corporate or strata?

When it comes to renovating in a complex that is managed by a strata, the general rule is that if your work involves common property, you will need permission. For example any additions or changes that involve common walls, floors, the ceiling, even changing external doors and windows and new kitchens and bathrooms need to be approved. As tempting as it may be to just get on with it if it’s inside your apartment, if your renovations affect or damage the common property, you may have action taken against you or even be told to restore the property back to its original state – neither of which you want. It’s helpful to show your owners corporation drawings of your proposed changes from the start.