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My project needs building approval. What should I do next?

You finally have the financial resources to move on with your dreams – whether it is improving, modifying, repairing, extending, adding or building a residential, commercial, or investment property.

You might be planning to:

  • build a new house, granny flat, studio – any new building really
  • renovate an existing building
  • add, extend or replace a deck, carport, shed, pergola, fence or the like
  • install or remove a swimming pool, retaining wall, rescaping or underpinning – anything that may require significant excavation or fill work
  • subdivide your block
  • fit out an office, retail shop or food outlet

Your initial enquiries and research indicates you need to obtain approval and you are left wondering what that means and where to start the process of obtaining approval for your building work. Make yourself a cuppa, put your feet up, then read on.

building approval

Legislation

In general, familiarise yourself with your local council requirements and restrictions as published in their existing Local Environmental Plan (LEP) and Development Control Plan (DCP), and in conjunction with current environmental, utility and government regulations, legislation and any standards that apply to approval for building works in your zone.

A large part of this information can be found on a planning certificate which outlines the specific planning instruments that apply to your land. You might have one as part of a sale contract if you have purchased a landsite; or you can ask your local council for a copy. Familiarise yourself with a simple overview of key planning controls for your location, which can be viewed on the ePlanning Spatial Viewer courtesy of the NSW Planning Portal.

building approval

Why is this so important?

In a nutshell, the process goes towards ensuring that buildings are safe to live in, and has a minimal impact on the neighbourhood, not just people but existing native animals and plants, the integrity of the land and established and future telecommunications, energy, water and wastewater infrastructure just to name a few common issues.

Unless you are prepared to track down, purchase and digest the entire contents of the current National Construction Code (NCC) 2019 containing the Building Code of Australia (BCA), and work through a list of relevant Australian Standards, and go back and forth on some of the finer points of compliance after you submit your Development Application, hiring the right team of professionals will bring you peace of mind. You can see your dream interpreted into documents and plans that meet the current legislation, standards and policies of the approving body as well as identifying anything you may not have considered.

Know Your Team: Who will you need to help you get approval?

Talking to the right people will save you time by identifying what applies to you and the building works you want to complete, and give you a jump on making the most of your budget.

building approval

Council Planning Office

Start by contacting your local council, you might have done so but make sure you get comprehensive information on the policies, procedures and relevant fees that Council will require through the process. Depending on the complexity of your situation, for example, you want to do something that falls outside of the LEP, you need to sit down with the Council’s planning officer so you understand exactly what you need to submit with your application.

Ask specific questions about whether you need to submit plans; which planning controls affect your plans; whether you will need insurance and what types; what records you need to provide, obtain and keep; do they provide a schedule of fees; what are some of the major concerns you need to be aware of before you begin hiring people and equipment; and how long after approval is given  must you begin construction. This is not a comprehensive list so use the interview with a Council planning officer to increase your knowledge.

As you progress through to construction, the planning office will remain available for any further enquiries, and if you prioritise responding to requests for information from the council, you can expect things to move smoothly.

Being aware of what documents need to be provided, how to get them, and when, will help you negotiate with the other people you will need to help you get this project over the line.

People you may need to contact after talking with the council planner are a draftsperson, an architect, a surveyor, a structural engineer, an interior designer, a landscaping architect and/or designer, a bushfire consultant, a building certifier, a builder, and because of the impact you may have on their lives, your neighbours.

Some of these people are a legal requirement; some of these people may stay on as part of your team after construction commences. Some building consultancies have everyone you could possibly need under their umbrella, or you might trust the recommendations of people you know or have already spoken to about your development.

building approval

The Planners

You will need to supply a compliant visual description of your plans, not just your ideas but detailed, considered drawings of the building project, and support it with any relevant surveys, engineer’s certificates or inspection reports.

Engage the services of a professional for your plans. Look for people or businesses who have proven experience with the local council. They should already be familiar with how the rules apply to constructions, renovations and other building works such as specific height, size and distance from boundaries restrictions; local heritage, flooding,and stormwater constraints as well as the Development Application approval process.

Depending on the nature of the building works, these people might need to undertake inspections. For example, a Site Analysis looks at the property’s relationship to certain elements of the property including trees, other buildings on the land, setbacks, heights, access points, the land slope, waterways, drainage, the sun’s path and issues such as privacy, access and visual impact to neighbouring properties as well as the street’s typical profile. A site analysis is important as it ensures your plans fit within the character of the street relative to LEP standards, and reduces the risk of having your DA returned to you for amendments.

building approval

Certified Documents

Some additional documents will need to be created or obtained and assembled in accordance with the council’s DA form. Your council planning officer will have told you whether you need to obtain an owner’s consent (if you are not the owner); a Statement of Environment Effects (SEE); a site survey; a site analysis; a BASIX Certificate (aka an energy efficiency report demonstrating the building works sustainability when the building cost exceeds $50,000); landscaping and drainage plans; or whether State agencies require specific reports, such as a Bushfire Prone compliance.

Further your plans will need to be endorsed by a building certifier, whose role is to ensure that the building complies with the NCC 2019, BCA and Australian Standards. Your local council may have a building certifier on staff, or you can engage your own private accredited certifier. This person will check that you have consulted and incorporated all the relevant legislation, policies and standards that apply to your building works.

You can engage a building certifier at any point of the pre-lodgement process and an effective one will, besides streamlining the process, think about how your dream can be designed so it will be approved and realised. An experienced building certifier will have developed trusted partnerships with other essential professionals or coordinate an experience team themselves. In some circumstances, approval only requires a building certifier to issue a Complying Development Certificate (CDC) for ‘Exempt’ or ‘Complying Developments’ building works.

Measure twice, cut once

It is very important that you understand the legislation and engage the right people. Even with external help, you need to be diligent with your research as the building approval process can be quite complicated and confusing for those who are unfamiliar with it. Make sure that you:

  • Use the DA checklist
  • Gather the right certificates, plans, and reports
  • Confirm every section is completed, tick the right boxes
  • Consult with the council planning office if you need help

If you have any further questions or would like some assistance to navigate the building approval process, please don’t hesitate to call the Buildcert team on 1300 457 400 or fill in our contact form https://buildcert.com.au/request-quote/ and one of our experienced team members will get in touch with you very soon.

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