The Development Application Process

People often ask about the Development Application process, having heard stories about appalling council delays. As part of our commitment to making the development process quicker, cheaper and as easy as possible for homeowners, builders and developers, the following may help as an introduction to the process.  (Our Architectural Design process is outlined on our Process page). It is general advice only; for advice specific to your project please contact us directly.

What are the controls I have to comply with?

Currently in NSW there are three potential pathways for development approval:

  • Exempt Development (minor matters which require no approval),
  • Complying Development (code compliance, for which approval can be granted by a certifier within ten days), and
  • Development Applications (so-called ‘merit approval’, by your local council).

At present there are about 50 State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPP), and each local council has its own Local Environmental Plans (LEP) and Development Control Plans (DCP). LEPs are now based on a standard template to ensure there is some commonality in local controls across the state, but in detail each council’s suite of controls can be quite different. A 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 ensure that the development application complies with the relevant legislation, we always recommend our clients obtain from their local council a planning certificate that spells out which legislation applies to the site. We strongly recommend you obtain professional advice, particularly in the early stages of your project.

What is Complying Development?

If your project can be approved under the alternative pathway of Complying Development – under the Codes SEPP –  the approval will be quicker and much more simple than the more traditional merit approval of a Development Application (DA) to your local council. Due to restrictions such as site size or heritage controls, however, Complying Development is often not possible on small sites in inner city areas, so the DA is the usual approval that is applied for. The state government is preparing changes to the planning system that may extend the scope of code approvals, but they are currently caught up in political difficulties.

How do I prepare a Development Application?

First of all you will need to prepare an exemplary design – we would be happy to provide design services for your project. For the development application you will need to provide the information required by your local council. If we are engaged by you to provide the Sketch Design and Development Application stage services we will manage the process on your behalf. The documentation required varies dramatically depending on the scale of your project and the council to which you are applying. Every Development Application must include the following:

  • Application form – available from your local council’s website.
  • Owner’s consent – if you are the landowner, you will need to sign this part of the application form. If you have an option on the land you will need to obtain the consent of the land owner before lodging your DA.
  • Statement of Environmental Effects – a document outlining your project’s compliance with all the relevant state, regional and local legislation, policies and plans. For small projects we provide this report; on larger projects we recommend you engage a consultant town planner.
  • Payment of DA fees – these are set by your local council and depend on the size, scope and cost of your project.
What needs to be included in a DA?

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 drawings such as:

  • Site Plan
  • Floor Plans, Area Calculations
  • Elevations, Materials and Finishes Schedule
  • Sections
  • BASIX Certificate demonstrating compliance with the state government’s energy usage requirements.

Additional 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, but it may not always be clear at the start of your DA process which studies will be required. Sometimes a site inspection will reveal something previously unknown, or council might decide extra reports are necessary during their assessment process. Examples of specialist studies that may be required include:

  • Statement of Heritage Impact: on smaller projects – concerning work in a Heritage Conservation area – we usually provide this report; on larger projects or listed items of Heritage Significance we recommend you engage a heritage consultant
  • Environmental/ Soil Contamination Report: of particular importance for projects ‘up-zoning’ from industrial uses to residential
  • Arborist’s Report
  • Waste Management Report
  • Bushfire Report
  • Disabled Access Report
  • Fire Safety Schedule
  • Geotechnical Report
How do I submit the DA?

Each local council has its own requirements for the format in which Development Applications are lodged. City of Sydney now require submissions to be made electronically, but until recently they required 6 copies of documentation plus an electronic copy. More councils are moving to electronic submissions, but many still require sets of documents in hard copy.

How long does it take for an approval once the DA has been accepted by council?

The time it takes for your DA to be approved can vary depending on a number of factors, some within your control, but others perhaps not. For small projects that have been documented well and are generally in compliance with the LEP and DCP, approval time can be as little as 6-8 weeks, but usually 8-10 weeks. For more complicated proposals development approval will be longer, due to specialist approvals regarding Heritage, Arborist reports, Traffic reports and so on. In projects proposing up-zoning from, for example, Industrial uses to Residential, approval of remediation strategies for soil contamination can take many months.

If you want a quick approval it will be best to comply as far as possible with all of the LEP and DCP requirements. Sometimes however you will want to break a control because it does not suit your brief or site circumstances. The vast majority of development applications are approved, but negotiating approvals for proposals that depart from the controls can take time, and they can sometimes be approved in a form that is slightly different from what was originally applied for. You need professional advice to design the project, as well as to negotiate with council during the assessment process so that you get an approval in the form that you want.

Can’t someone do this for me?

If we are engaged we will look after the process on your behalf. On more complicated development proposals a consultant town planner can assist with the process, to provide expert advice on the documentation required for the DA and to liaise with council officers during the assessment period. In the end however, there can be no guarantees when dealing with councils, as the decisions can be political, a response to neighbour pressures rather than good urban design. An appeal to the court remains as a final resort.

But don’t be put off: you shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that, no matter how awkward the process may seem, the vast majority of development applications do get approved.