Both builders and experienced experienced property professionals know that getting the local authority approvals into place can be one of most time consuming parts of a building project. In many cases, it will take longer than the construction process itself.
The fact is, local authorities have increasingly complex building regulations to enforce, and they’re being asked to do it with fewer resources than ever before. It’s no wonder that when a proposal isn’t straightforward, the approvals can drag. However, if the proper approvals haven’t been granted before we begin work, then the local authority is within their rights to tear down what we’ve built. Alternatively there is the option to seek a Building Certificate. Their role cannot and should not be taken lightly.
Here’s What Can Get In the Way
Building projects usually go through at least two types of approval: development approval and building code review (also know as a CDC). For development approval to be granted, the project has to line up with the local authority’s town planning guidelines, and there may be other regulations that apply, as well, involving issues such as historic preservation or environmental conservation. In order to be granted building code approval, an approved Building Certifier has to review the project and confirm that it follows all the applicable building regulations.
Imagine that you work in the building or planning department of your local government. You have an incredibly complex set of regulations to enforce. Some of the rules are confusing and contradictory, and you find yourself having to explain them to people over and over again. Sometimes, things change so fast that you’re not even sure what’s going on, yourself. You’re under-resourced, with too few staff members to provide the kind of prompt and high quality service you’d like to. Every time the politicians change places, they want you to do your job differently. Then, you’re presented with vague, poor quality or poorly organised plans and specifications. What are you going to take care of promptly? You will probably put a building project that’s been submitted is an easy-to-examine format, by someone who has consulted you in advance, at the top of the pile.
How to Help Things Along
1. Schedule a Pre-Development Application consultation with your local authority
One of the best investments you can make in your project is to schedule a Pre-DA consultation with your local authority. You can let them know about the nature and location of your project in advance, and they’ll meet with you and tell you exactly what the limits are on your project and what requirements it will need to meet. You’ll find out about issues such as minimum setbacks from the property lines, zoning limitations and whether your site has any historical or environmental rules associated with it. This meeting is usually not free, but it is absolutely invaluable for starting your project off on the right foot. The minutes of the meetings can also form part of the strategy for the submission to council.
2. Identify and resolve LGA compliance issues
Your project may need to comply with rules other than just the building safety and efficiency requirements in the Building Code of Australia (BCA). Many of these additional rules fall under the purview of the Local Government Association (LGA) of Australia. They include laws like the Environmental Protection Act and the Food Act. The pre-DA meeting should call these issues to your attention, but it will be your job to make sure that your project meets all the requirements.
3. Consult with stakeholders
Whether you’re planning a major development or an addition to your house, you will want to show respect to the people who live and/or work in the neighbourhood by consulting them early on in the design process. If they have concerns, this will give you a chance to address them in the building design. If you can’t make your stakeholders happy, then at least you will get credit for having put in an honest effort. For small projects, a stakeholder consultation might mean chatting with the neighbours over the fence. For a larger project, it might mean consulting neighbourhood residents’ or business associations.
4. Make a high quality submission
This should be so obvious that it doesn’t need to be mentioned, but here we go. When you submit your project for approval, make sure that it includes all of the information that the local authority needs in order to review it. Have a checklist and use it. Unsurprisingly, incomplete or poorly organised applications can end up at the bottom of the pile.
5. Keep tabs on the process
Make sure that you’re aware of who, specifically, will be involved in the approval process. You should be able to find this out at the Pre-DA consultation. Make a note of it and keep the information at hand. Be aware of when each phase of the process is expected to be complete. Stay informed and engaged, but stay patient; avoid being overbearing. Remember that the building and planning officials are probably stressed out and overloaded.
In short, if you’re well prepared and respect your officials and stakeholders, then your project is more likely to be approved quickly, with few revisions. If you’re disorganised or if you skimp on design or planning, then both approvals and construction are likely to be full of delays and extra expenses.