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March 5, 2015

Tracking a development application


Winston Churchill famously said; “he who fails to plan, plans to fail”. Property developer and author Jo Chivers talks us through the design and planning phase of a project to ensure the best result. 

The development application is a very important stage of your project. Don’t rush it. Take the time to think about what you want to achieve and ensure you’re happy with each milestone before proceeding, as it can be costly to turn back and start again.

Who do I need in my team for this phase of my project?
You’ll need a surveyor, architect or draftsperson, builder, town planning consultant (not always necessary), the local council, perhaps a private certifier and a development project manager if you’re time poor or inexperienced.

Where do I start?
You must start with a clear concept of what you want to achieve. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
1. How many dwellings do I want to get onto the land?
2. How much equity do I want to create by developing this land?
3. What does the Development Control Plan allow?
4. Design single or double-storey dwellings – what does the market want/need?
5. Are you building to hold or sell?
6. Who is the target market – tenants or owner-occupiers?
7. If holding, what do tenants in this area look for in rental properties?
8. What’s the demand for the number of bedrooms?
9. How will I differentiate my development in the market?
10. How much can I finance? It’s extremely important to have a pre-approval on your development finance so you know you can complete your project.
11. What’s the best structure to purchase and develop in? This is a good question for your accountant.

What do I do once I’ve found some land to develop?
The first thing you’ll need to do is have a surveyor complete a contour and detailed survey. Contour and detail surveys give a true representation of the shape, features and services of a site. They normally include manmade improvements, trees and, if required, adjoining property information.

Once you have this survey, you can pass it onto your architect, draftsperson or builder. They need this to start on the concept plan.

Another important investigation tool is a geotechnical report. This will classify the site, soil and wind affecting your site. This information is important to consider when starting on the design and critical for the engineering plans.

Do I need to use an architect to design my project?
This will depend on your goal and the area you’re developing in. Sometimes it’s not necessary to use an architect if you know what you’ll be building is fairly basic. But if you’re looking to create something a little different or need some expert advice on a tricky site, then engage an architect.

Some project managers use an in-house drafting service to save clients money and architects for higher end developments or more complex sites.

Steps in the design phase include:
• Concept plan: This will be the first concept of what can be achieved and you can make changes to this. You can use this plan to show the council town planner to ensure you’re designing within their guidelines. It’s easier to make any changes now, rather than after you’ve submitted the development application (DA) to council.
• DA plans: Once you’ve approved the concept plan, then you’ll move to the full DA plans, which are more detailed and may include other documents such as Statement of Environmental Effects and Basix reports that need to be submitted to council with the DA plans.
• Construction Certificate (CC): These plans are required to be submitted to council or a private certifier after your DA has been approved. They will include engineer’s storm water and slab design.

Before lodging your DA
Before lodging a DA it’s advisable to consult with your council to ensure all relevant issues are addressed and sufficient information is provided. Take in your concept plan to show them. For smaller projects, discussion with the duty planner may suffice. For larger or more complex projects, pre-DA consultation is considered to be important, as it provides the opportunity for council staff to direct applicants to the relevant components of this DCP (Development Control Plan) and other related matters. This can save you much time and expense.

How long will my DA take in council?
This is a good question and one that has many different answers. It will depend on the complexity of your project and your council’s track record and resources. Some councils have a DA tracking system on their website. This is a fantastic tool you can use to check how long other similar DAs have taken and then use to track your own DA once it’s lodged.

A single dwelling will be processed quicker than a medium-density project for instance, due to the more complex nature of storm water engineering as one example.

Your development may fall under complying development and an application may not even need to be lodged with council. You can then use a private certifier instead, which will be much faster, but a little more expensive, than using council.

Preparing your DA
Most council websites will have development application guides designed to help you in preparing your DA and are written for specific development types.

The guides will usually include answers to frequently asked questions, a guide to filling in the development application form, a checklist of what to submit with your application, a list of documents that you should refer to when preparing your application and a sample plan.

Ask your builder if they’ll manage the DA application for you, as this can save you a lot of time studying requirements. You’ll still need a good understanding of the process so you can discuss the application with your builder.

Once your DA is lodged
On the council tracking system you may find the dates that the tasks were commenced, when they were due and when they were actually completed.

Regardless of whether your council has a tracking system or not, below is the general order of events during the DA processing period. They may vary a little from council to council but you can check with your council on its order of processes:

• Application lodged.
• Preparation of file and allocation to a town planner/development assessment officer.
• Development Advisory Unit allocation. A committee for your DA may be discussed with them. These may have other names like Application Review Panel.
• Notification of neighbours for your DA. If submissions are received, they’ll be reviewed and documented.
• Referral to a development engineer.
• Assessment by planner and site inspection.
• Preparation of determination documents.
• Apply house numbering (if a new building).
• Send determination to applicant.

What to do when you receive your determination
You’ll either receive consent or rejection of your application. If you’re dissatisfied with your council’s decision, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 gives you the right ‘to request a review by council as long as the application for review is lodged within 12 months of the date of determination; or to appeal to the Land and Environment Court within 12 months after the date on which you receive the notice.’

If you receive consent, but are dissatisfied with any of the conditions of approval, you may lodge an application for Section 96 Modification to either delete the condition or modify it. An application for Section 96 Modification should be accompanied by a written statement of reasons and appropriate supporting documentation and scheduled fees.

Discuss the consent with your builder and ensure you understand the conditions of the consent and that they’ve been allowed for in your building plans. Building works can’t start until a construction certificate is issued. You can apply to council for this or use a private certifier.

Should I use a private certifier?
I prefer to use a private certifier once I’ve received the DA consent. It’s much quicker to obtain the construction certificate consent and the inspection process during the build phase is usually also sped up when using a private certifier. This is well worth the small additional cost, as time is money.

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now,” Alan Lakein, a master of time management, says. That’s what I love about property development, bringing the future into the present.

You really can’t spend too much time on the design and planning phase of your development, but try not to get overwhelmed by all the detail. While this is the most time consuming phase of your project, remember to step back and visualise the ‘big picture’ to ensure you keep moving forward towards your end goal.

About Jo Chivers

Jo Chivers is director of Property Bloom, which manages property developments.