The Development Application Process
There are three ways of obtaining development approval – exempt development (for which no approval is needed), complying development (for which approval can be granted by a certifier within ten days) and development applications (which you’ve probably heard of).
There are over 100 State Environmental Planning Policies (and equivalents), over 300 Local Environmental Plans and thousands of Development Control Plans in operation. Any number of these pieces of legislation might apply to your block of land, dictate the ways in which you can obtain development approval, and restrict the development you’re allowed to do.
To make sure you comply with all that legislation, we suggest obtaining professional advice from a qualified and experienced town planner, particularly in the early stages of your project. There are a number of benefits of engaging a town planner, but if you’re managing your own approval process, a planner can still help. Any good planner should be prepared to give you free preliminary advice over the phone.
Development Applications and Development Approval
If you’re looking to start a building project, you can save time and money by thinking about planning approval, or DA approval, from the outset. The most appropriate method of getting development approval depends on these factors:
- The size and cost of your development
- The zoning, location and restrictions placed on your land (call your local council or check their website to find this information)
- The heritage status of your land, buildings and surrounding land (check your States Heritage Inventory)
There are three methods to get approval for residential, commercial or industrial development in NSW, depending on the extent of your proposed works:
- Exempt Development – for very minor development such as building a deck, provided it meets a variety of standards set out in the legislation. No approval is required for this type of development.
- Complying Development – for minor development such as building a new house or installing ventilation in a commercial building, provided it meets a variety of standards set out in the legislation. This type of development is approved with a Complying Development Certificate (CDC), which can be issued by your local council or a private certifier.
- Development Application (DA) – for most other common forms of development, from building a house that exceeds the maximum height in the complying development standards to building an apartment block or extending an existing industrial building. The Development Application approval is known as Development Consent, and is granted by your local council.
What is Exempt Development?
Exempt development is governed by State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development), also known as the “Codes SEPP”.
Exempt development is low impact, minor development for which no approval is necessary as long as the standards set out in the legislation are met.
Exempt development generally covers small-scale additions to existing homes, such as garden sheds, decks and awnings.
Do I Need Development Approval?
You can find out whether your proposed works are exempt development by following these steps:
1. Visit the Housing Code website and check the list of works that are classed as exempt development. If your development is listed, click on it to see the development standards that you must meet.
2. Check the exclusions listed in the Codes SEPP to make sure that your land isn’t in one of the excluded areas.
3. Your proposed development may have restrictions, for example if your property is on bushfire prone land or is heritage listed. There are a number of ways to check what restrictions apply to your land. You can check the online mapping tools on your local council’s website, or call them directly. Alternatively, any restrictions on your property will be listed on your 149 certificate, if you have one. You can check if your property is heritage listed by searching your States Heritage Inventory.
If your proposed works are listed as exempt development, your property is not located in an excluded area, and your proposed works meet all of the development standards, your works are exempt development and can be carried out without approval.
If your project isn’t classed as exempt development, you may be able to get approval through Complying Development or a Development Application.
What is Complying Development?
Complying Development is largely governed by State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development), also known as the “Codes SEPP”.
Complying development is common for routine development that has predictable and minor environmental impacts and meets the development standards set out in the legislation.
If your project meets all the development standards, you are guaranteed approval, which comes in the form of a Complying Development Certificate (CDC). CDCs can be issued by your local council or a private certifier. Approval is usually granted within ten days.
Examples of residential complying development include building a new one or two storey house, renovating an existing house or adding a swimming pool to an existing house. Granny flats can also be built as complying development; these are governed by State Environmental Planning Policy.
Examples of commercial and industrial complying development include some changes of use of existing buildings, installing ventilation, a skylight or roof window, or undertaking internal alterations that do not increase the footprint of the existing building.
Can I get a Complying Development Certificate for my project?
You can get your project approved as complying development by following these steps:
1. Look up the relevant part of the Codes SEPP to check whether your proposed works are listed, and the development standards that apply. This covers construction of new houses and additions to existing houses, housing in rural zoned land, alterations to existing houses, and commercial and industrial properties.
2. Find out what restrictions apply to your land. There are a number of ways to obtain this information. You can check the online mapping tools on your local council’s website, or call them directly. Alternatively, any restrictions on your property will be listed on your s149 certificate, if you have one. You can check if your property is heritage listed by searching the NSW State Heritage Inventory.
3. Check the Codes SEPP to make sure that any restrictions that apply to your property don’t exclude your property from complying development. For example, that complying development isn’t allowed on a property that includes a heritage item.
4. Find a relevant professional (architect,) and ask them to draw up plans that meet the development standards for your project.
5. Take your plans to your local council or a private certifier and explain that you want to carry out complying development. They will usually have some forms for you to fill out. They will then assess your plans against a checklist. Provided your plans meet the development standards, you are guaranteed approval, which is usually granted within ten days.
If your project isn’t classed as complying development, you may be able to get approval through a Development Application.
What is a Development Application (DA)?
A Development Application (DA) is a formal request for consent to carry out development. This type of Development Approval is the most common way of getting development consent. Development Applications are suitable for more complicated developments that don’t meet the requirements for Exempt Development or Complying Development.
A Development Application consists of a collection of documents (including application forms, site plans, consultants’ reports and the like) and is submitted to your local Council.
For some forms of development, the development application process can be swift and simple. However, for more complex applications, it can be a lengthy, time consuming and frustrating process. There are a few types of development that can be particularly complex (and generally apply to commercial and industrial, rather than residential, development):
- State Significant Development – a range of projects, including mining, industrial, waste, energy, tourism and infrastructure, are considered to be of state significance if they are over a certain size and/or situated in sensitive environmental areas. These projects are assessed by the States Department of Planning and Infrastructure instead of your local council.
- Integrated Development – some projects require a permit from another State Government Agency, which will be included in the development approval. For example, subdivision for housing in a bushfire prone area will require authorisation from the Rural Fire Service.
- Designated Development – listed in the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation or in a LEP or SEPP, these projects are generally high-impact or located in environmentally sensitive areas. Consent is usually granted by the local council.
Do I Need A Development Application (DA)?
You will need to lodge a Development Application with your local council if your proposed works don’t meet the requirements for Exempt Development or Complying Development. Almost all commercial and industrial developments require a Development Application to be lodged with your local council.
Examples of work that would require a Development Application include, but are not limited to:
- Boundary adjustments
- Building a three storey house, row of townhouses or apartment block
- Most additions and alterations to heritage items
- Establishment of use, most changes of use and changes to operating hours
- Construction of new commercial and industrial buildings
- Any works that increase the floor area of an existing commercial or industrial building
- Adding windows or doors and making external additions to an existing commercial or industrial building
Can I Do A Development Application Myself?
Yes, you can do your own development application, though we would always recommend obtaining professional advice (town planner) specific to your own situation, especially in the early stages of your project.
How Do I Lodge a Development Application (DA)?
You will need to provide the required information for lodgement with your local council. The documentation required varies dramatically depending on the scale of your project and which council you are lodging your application in.
Every Development Application must include the following:
- Application form – available from your local council’s website
- Owner’s consent form – if you are the landowner, you will need to sign this form. If you are leasing the land, you need to obtain the consent of the land owner before lodging your DA, no matter how minor the work is. Forms are available from your local council’s website
- Statement of Environmental Effects – a document outlining your project’s compliance with all the relevant state, regional and local legislation, policies and plans
- Payment of DA fees – these are set by your local council and depend on the size and scope and cost of your project
A number of other documents may be required depending on the type of development you propose. Most DAs involve some form of building work, so are required to include architectural and landscape drawings such as:
- Site plans
- Floor plans
- Elevations and sections
Specialist studies may be necessary for your DA, depending on the location of your property and type of development. Your local council or a planning consultant can advise you on what reports will be required. It may not always be clear at the start of your DA process which studies you need. Sometimes a site inspection will reveal something previously unknown, or council might decide extra reports are necessary. Examples of specialist studies include:
- Arborist’s Report
- Bushfire Report
- CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) or Safer By Design Report
- Disabled Access Report
- Erosion & Sediment Control Plan
- Fire Safety Schedule
- Geotechnical Report
- Statement of Heritage Impact
Each local council has its own requirements for the format in which Development Applications are lodged. As a general rule, you will need to submit a minimum of 3 copies of most of the required documents. Some councils have requirements for electronic lodgement, either by web, email or disc.
What Happens After I Lodge A Development Application (DA)?
Generally, after a DA is lodged, the process is as follows:
1. Your DA will be placed on public exhibition. This allows interested parties, such as your neighbours or local businesses, to view your development plans and raise any concerns.
2. Council assess your DA against the relevant controls, including State Environmental Planning Policies, Local Environmental Plans and Development Control Plans.
3. If your DA fails to comply with one of the controls, this doesn’t mean it will be automatically refused. Council will undertake a merit assessment to decide whether the positives of your approval outweigh the negatives.
4. If your DA is successful, you will be granted development consent. There may be some conditions of consent imposed, such as works that must be carried out before occupation or materials that can be used.
5. If your DA is unsuccessful, you can request for council to review the determination (with or without amendments to your original DA) or lodge an appeal at the Land and Environment Court.
A very small number of commercial and industrial developments – in industries like mining, waste, energy and tourism – are assessed by the States Department of Planning and Infrastructure if they are considered to be of state significance. Some projects – such as those involving state heritage items or in industries like mining and fishing – may also require a permit or approval from another state agency.
How Long Does It Take To Get Development Approval?
In 2010-2011, councils took an average of 68 days to process a Development Application. You can find detailed statistics on development assessment processing times for your local council at the Local Development Performance Monitoring section of your States Department of Planning and Infrastructure website. Each year, the DP&I publishes a report and accompanying data on the number of Complying Development Certificates and Development Approvals issued each year, along with average processing times and the value of development.
The time it takes for your DA to be approved can vary depending on a number of factors. Some of these factors are within your control. Unfortunately, others are not.
If you’re carrying out development in one of many councils which took over 100 days on average to process Development Applications last year, your DA process may take longer than most.
If your development is particularly complex and your Development Application includes a number of documents such as geotechnical reports, bushfire reports, traffic reports or arborist’s reports, development assessment is likely to take longer than average.
You can minimise the processing time of your Development Application by ensuring that all the necessary documentation is included when you lodge your DA. On average over one third of all DAs are returned to the applicants for further information (known as “stop the clock”), adding an average of 47 days to the development assessment process.
A town planner can provide expert advice on the documentation you will require for your DA. This can help to ensure a smooth process, greatly reduce the risk of “stop the clock” and minimise the overall time it takes for your development to be approved.
Once you have Consent (Development Approval), prior to starting construction you will need to apply for a “Construction Certificate” (Construction Approval).