The Complete Guide To The Development Approval Process: Part 1/2

The development approval process can be really daunting if you haven’t gone through it before. There’s a lot of different steps to take that you’re probably not aware of. So today, I have Luke with me from durackarchitects.com to talk through the complete guide to the development approval process so you guys can get an understanding of it and you guys can stop being overwhelmed and know exactly what to do next.

Ryan: Hey Luke, thanks for coming on today.

Luke: Good day, Ryan. Good to be here.

Ryan: Do you want to first give us an overview of the development approval process for getting a development approved so we can start building it? And then, we’ll go into the nitty-gritty and the step-by-step.

Luke: Yeah, sure. It’s one of those areas that doesn’t need to be as daunting as it probably is for a lay person. Typically, you would employ an architect to start the design of your new house or your alterations and additions to your existing house. They would work with you to get the appropriate documents that you could then submit to council or your private certifier if you’re going through a compliant development pathway.

Once you’ve got that, assuming everything goes well, you get your approval from council then you write to move on to the next stage, which would be an extra level of detail to the drawings that you’ve supplied for your DA so that a builder can build what has been designed. You will then select a builder, get them to price what you’ve designed and then you move on to the construction process and pretty much where you go.

That’s it in its briefest form, I guess.

Ryan: Yeah. And so, we’re going to break this into two parts. The first part we’re going to talk about the process up until getting your development approval. And then, in the second part, we’re going to go more into the construction drawings and what sort of things you need to do after development approval, but before the construction of the property actually starts.

Let’s say that I’ve just purchased a piece of land and I want to do a development on it. Or, I’ve purchased a property and I want to do a renovation on it. What’s the first sort of step that someone in that position needs to take?

Is it to contact an architect like yourself and just say, “Hey mate, I’d like to build a house. What do we do?”

Luke: It is that basic. I’m a bit biased, but I would say the first step is to contact an architect. The other options are to speak with a building designer or a draughtsman or even a builder. But, from an architect’s point of view, the best thing you can do is to contact an architect.

Ryan: I was just going to say, what are the reasons for that and then how do we choose a good architect?

Luke: The reason I’d say that and without sounding up myself, I guess –

Ryan: Well, you’re going to be biased, you are an architect. So, we can expect some bias advise here.

Luke: Yeah. But, from a design outcome, if you want a great result, you go with an architect. Now, the great buildings in the world, and I’m not talking about just Opera Houses and Guggenheims and so forth, were build by great builders, but they were designed by great architects. Builders are great at building, but architects are there to design your building.

We’re the ones placed to negotiate the various aspects of the whole package. We spent 6 years or more – I probably spent 7 or 8 years at uni learning how to design buildings, learning how to put together what we design. Understanding the various environmental and cost implications of different construction methods. Learning how to guide you through the process of getting approvals, liaising with the consultants, the whole gamut.

We’re the ones best placed to have a hand along the whole package. A colleague said to me the other day, I thought was quite accurate is, “If you prioritize design, you prioritize budget.” For most people, budget is sort of numero uno important. So, that’s why I suggest an architect to sort of stage one.

Ryan: So what’s the difference between an architect and a draughtsman? Because I know a lot of people think, “Oh, architect, that’s going to be expensive.” Is there some sort of price guide that people can think of when hiring an architect? And does hiring an architect kind of benefit you down the line versus other approaches like getting plans drawn by the builder or by a draughtsman?

Luke: Like I was saying, architects typically study for 6 years or more. We’re in a position, we’ve been trained to design buildings. But, we’ve also been trained to tackle all the various issues that are involved with that.

So, we’re talking about environmental sustainable design, different construction methods and suitable material choices. And the best way to plan spaces for optimum efficiency so that they cater to the client’s brief.

Ryan: Yeah. And how does that differ from a draughtsman?

Luke: Well, a draughtsman doesn’t have the same training. It’s that simple. Not that there aren’t great draughtsman out there who are great at drawing up buildings. But, their training is not the training that an architect gets. And a builder, they’re great at building.

They’re not typically great designers. Not that you don’t see a lot of design work come out of builders or draughtsman. But, like we’re saying, if you want to prioritize design, you go to an architect. It’s that simple.

Ryan: Yeah, well, that’s the thing. We all have different skills in life, right? I’m really great with understanding properties, finding positive cash flow properties, I’m great at building websites. But, when it comes to building stuff, it just takes me a really long time and I don’t really enjoy it. But you know, I can build a website a lot faster than build a [inaudible 6:55].

We all have different skills. What about – can we touch on pricing? While we’re in this phase, are there guidelines that people should look at or does it really vary from project to project to how much an architect is going to cost? Do you pay by the hour? How does it work?

Luke: It does vary a lot and it is a real misnomer that architects are necessarily more expensive. Specially now, there’s a lot of competition. Architects are cutting themselves left, right and center. The pricing, the way we quote now has been – there aren’t the same guidelines there anymore because it was deemed anti-competitive. Architects typically price either hourly, lump sum or percentage-based.

If it’s percentage-based, which is a bit more the norm, architects base their customer services on the cost the construction. And the reason for that is, it’s deemed as a reliable method of determining the amount of – the cost equates to the amount of work done/required of the project. So, if you’ve got a $1 million house, that’s going to be more work involved than if you’re doing a –

Ryan: A backyard shed for $10,000 or something.

Luke: That said, if you’ve got a $1 million house, the percentage might be around anywhere from 6-10%. Where if you go down, you’re building a little addition to your back shed that’s $50,000 the percentage will go up because you’d need you know, otherwise –

Ryan: So we’re talking around – like in percentages, we’re talking around 6-10% for $1 million?

Luke: Yeah.

Ryan: Okay.

Luke: That’s probably accurate enough to say that.

Ryan: Okay, cool. That’s interesting to know. Let’s say, we’ve chosen that we want to talk to an architect. We call you up and we say we like to build a house.

Can you talk me through the sort of process for the client of yours – the person wanting to build and develop. Like, what sort of ideas do we need to have? Do we need to have like hand drawings ourself? What’s the process like in talking to an architect to get something built?

Luke: I would say that that first phone call to an architect doesn’t have to be – you know, you don’t have to feel too worried about it. You don’t have to feel like you’ve prepared a lot. That can all be done during the process.

Typically, an architect’s service is broken down into 4 or 5 stages. And just briefly there, that’s planning stage, a design stage, a town planning or DA stage then a construction documentation stage, a builder selection and tendering stage and then the construction stage.

In my practice, we tend to spend a bit more time on the planning and the feasibility stage. So that’s the first stage. And just to give a medical sort of analogy, like a doctor, you go to a doctor, you’ve got a heart problem. First protocol is not to cut you open and take out your heart.

So, they do a thorough examination and work out what the issues are. Whether they can just give you medicine, replace your heart, fix what’s there. It’s the same with the design process. You spend a lot of time in the planning stage and you don’t make cost of mistakes later on. That’s the thing.

Ryan: Because it’s much to change designs on paper than it is to rip down walls and to move them around once it’s already up.

Luke: That’s right. Yeah. And sometimes, it takes a while for people to work out what it is they actually want. They think they want 3 bedrooms and with 3 en-suites, but maybe they only want 2 bedrooms and 1 en-suite is actually enough. You know, it sort of takes a little while to tease that stuff out. And also, reveal things that people want in their home that hadn’t about perhaps.

Ryan: Yeah. I guess, that’s part of the benefit of hiring an architect as well. You may go in with ideas of what you want, but it’s so easy to forget little details about things that you need in the house, but you don’t think about. Like, the amount of power points in a room or I don’t know.

There’ll be so many little things that I’d be like, “Well that doesn’t work because of this.” Whereas, with an architect, you guys so many different drawings and so many different designs, you know what works and what doesn’t.

Luke: Yeah. And it’s not, you know, once you say, “I want 3 bedrooms.” It’s not just about how to squeeze those 3 bedrooms and a kitchen and a living room on a space. It’s how to get quality of space that flow between those spaces that maximize your daylight, your ventilation. How, as a family, how do you want to live withe everyone else in the house? Do you want there to be a connection? Do you want to have your separate spaces? That’s quite an involved sort of process.

So after that planning stage, you go on, it sort of bleeds into the next stage, which is the design or sketch design phase. That’s meant to be loose and informal, you know, often, I’m sitting around the table with a husband and wife, maybe there are kids involved.

We might work out what the components of the brief are. We’re doing sketches about how things might relate to each other. I go away, spend a bit more time on that, looking at how those spaces might work best together. I typically do a few options. At this stage, they’re typically still drawings on paper, quite rough.

I don’t want to scare people off by saying, “I’ve cut it up, it’s locked in. You’ve got to have your bedroom here.” So, it’s all quite rough, you know, take them back. Have another meeting with the client and we sketch over it. One of them says, “I don’t like the bedroom there.” So, we just sketch over it and look at different options.

And then, eventually, you know, you come up with the design that’s meeting your – the client’s brief. It’s addressing the site context and the other buildings around it.

Ryan: What do you find that the people that have the most success and enjoy their building the most, how do they work with their architect? Because I can imagine some people would have all their own ideas and tell the architect what to do. On the flip side, would be like, “I don’t really care, you just build whatever you want.”

Is there a happy medium or is there a best way? How can people best work with you or with an architect to really get the most of this planning process and design to get what they want but also draw from the expertise of the architect without annoying each other too much. Do you know what I mean?

Luke: Yeah. That’s a good question, isn’t it? Because a lot of people probably think, “Oh, go to an architect and they’re just going to design what they want to design. They can do a show piece that they can put on their website and so forth.” I would say most cases, that’s not correct. That’s not the way an architect is setting out to work. It’s

That’s not the way an architect is setting out to work. It’s a collaborative – the best architects work in a collaborative manner. So, you’re working with your client. You’re not sort of going away and sitting in your little room and come out with what you think they should have. They’re giving you ideas, they’re sending you their – more and more, you’re getting people’s Pinterest feeds of ideas they like; which is good.

It helps you, you know, summon after a French provincial house. Which usually are knocked back. Or, are they after something a bit more contemporary? What are they after? Often, clients come to you with sketches of things that they like.

For me, the way it works best is giving some ideas, more importantly, it’s the broad brush strokes. You know, what does the client want out of their home? Yes, they want 3 bedrooms and a kitchen, but what’s their lifestyle? What’s working with the way they’re living at the moment? And then, from that, we go away and we address those concerns and those requirements.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a couple of new clients send me floor plans. That’s good, but they’re not – that sort of gives me a sense of – when I look at that, I look at more and go, “This is what they want.”

Ryan: Yeah, you don’t look at the floor plan. You look at what they’re trying to say from the life experiences they wantform this floor plan that they’ve drawn.

Luke: Yeah. It’s like reading between the lines.

Ryan: Yeah. So, really, the best way people can work with an architect is to talk more conceptually at the beginning and to say, “This is me, this is my family, this is how we want to live and interact with each other and the sort of things that are important to us.”

Maybe it’s family time, cooking in the kitchen. Or, maybe you all like watching movies together or playing in the backyard. You know, different things that make you happy and stuff.

Some people love their separate spaces. I used to have a friend who lived in a house, it was on a massive hill so they had that 4 or 5 levels and they had intercoms and they would just intercom each other from the room.

Whereas, my family had like, we just had this one big living open kitchen space and the rooms were just off that. And so, we were always in together and we love that.

Everyone has their different ideals and ways they want to live. I can see that.

Luke: It’s definitely like that. Yeah.

Ryan: Okay. So, we go through the planning phase; which is, I guess, that kind of conceptual thing and talking about that. The design phase, which was you talking about the rough sketches and going through things like that and then you kind of lock down a plan. Is that right? And then you just line for the development approval?

Luke: Yeah. That’s right. So, eventually, you get to a stage where you’re happy with the rough design of the house or the alterations and additions to your existing house. And then, you go away and you start formalizing or make more concrete drawings that are designed to satisfy the council or a private certifier.

Ryan: Okay, do you want to talk through the process? For people who don’t know how it works, they haven’t done it before, what is DA or Development Approval? Is that you submitting plans to the local council and they then have to say, “Yeah, we like it.” or not. What is that?

Luke: Yeah. For a house, for example, you’d typically need to satisfy an authority. Whether it’s your council or a certifier, you have to satisfy them with a level of documentation that they’re happy with that you will build a house that fits within the controls of council.

Let me say that again. That wasn’t very clear.

Basically, you need to satisfy a council, in most cases, that what you’re designing fits with their rules. And that involves a set of drawings. But, it also involves, in many cases, reports from planners or engineers that they’re to satisfy other requirements of council. But, typically, at the end of the sketch design phase, I would start to draw those sketches up.

I would engage a number of other consultants that council requires input from. That information all gets packaged together and submitted to council.

Ryan: So these other consultants, are they environmental engineers or like —

Luke: That’s right. Typically, councils require information from stormwater engineers. How you’re going to deal with stormwater from the property. The run off, the water that’s caught on your roof, is it going to rainwater tanks or is it being gradually released on to the street, what’s happening there? You need a document that specifically addresses, in written from, how you are addressing the council rules.

Council has a whole lot of rules around the height, how much floor area you’re allowed to build on a particular site. The setbacks from the side boundaries and so forth. So it’s a document that addresses those.

Ryan: Okay. So, someone who’s hiring an architect, the architect would do all of this, right? That person doesn’t have to worry about the council rules. They don’t have to worry about hiring other consultants, that’s all done through the architect, correct?

Luke: Yup, that’s right. So, we liaise with the consultants, we liaise with the council.

Ryan: And is that a separate fee? Like, the consultants, is that something that people have to pay for themselves or does that come out of the architect’s fee?

Luke: No. Typically, that’s additional to the architect’s fees. So, council fees and consultant fees, that includes architects, they’re separate.

Ryan: Okay, cool.

Luke: But, when you’re budgeting, it’s very important that you’ll say, “I’ve got $500,000 to spend on a house.” But, it’s actually less than $500,000 because you’ve got to allow for, obviously, your consultants, your council fees, etc.

Ryan: Yeah, your architects and all that sort of stuff. All the stuff that leads up to the build and, yeah, exactly.

Luke: That’s right.

Ryan: Because I think so many people would go in and say, “Okay, I’ve got $0.5 million to spend on a house. What can I buy for $0.5 million?” Whereas, they don’t think there’s actually a lot of fees that go into the building process, so you might not actually have $0.5 million to spend, it’ll be less than that.

Luke: That’s right. That’s one of the reasons that people opt to – there are 2 ways you can get your approval. You can go through council, but with certain developments that we discussed in the previous interview with you, you can go through a compliant development.

Which allows for certain types of development to bypass council. You still need much the same level documentation, but the council fees, for example, are lower because you’re not going throughcouncil.

Ryan: Yup. And I’ll have to find a link. I’ll insert the link to the compliant development that we did in this one. But, let’s talk about the council approval process, which as we know, most people tend to go through that process. Can we talk about how difficult it is? What are our chances of knock back? How long does it take, etc?

Luke: Once you’ve submitted your drawings to council, typically, it goes on public exhibition. I mean, there are certain developments that don’t require and others do.

Ryan: Is public exhibition when they put the sign out the front that says there’s a development? That yellow sign that’s like, “There’s a development application.” They put it on the fence?

Luke: That’s right. And that’s the opportunity or maybe get to say, “I hate that you’ve designed your house and it’s all pink.” It gives you the opportunity to object to the development that you are proposing. So neighbors can come along and say, “I don’t like the look of it. I don’t like that it’s too big, it’s too high.” whatever.

Ryan: How often does neighbors’ opinions affect the outcome of the build? Is that a really common thing that it’ll often mean you’ll have to change stuff or not so much?

Luke: It depends on the council, but it’s very, very rare for you not to get at least some objections. People will object to anything, generally. The people who assess your application, who are the planners, they will take into account those objections. They’ll determine whether they’re relevant or not. They will try and address them.

Ryan: So, realistically, people should think, “Okay, our neighbors are going to object to some things and we’re going to have to deal with that.” So, don’t go into it thinking, “This is all just going to cruise through super smoothly.

Everything is going to be fine. Pass with no objections.” Just expect objections and that you may have to change your plans a bit and if you don’t get them, lucky you.

Luke: Well, that’s an important point, actually. Because your development approval is not a guaranteed thing. Just because you put in a set of drawings doesn’t mean you can definitely build your house. One of

One of good things about going with an architect over a builder or a draughtsman is that they are more up to date, clued in to the controls that council has about what you can and can’t build and how you can build. But, yeah, it’s not guaranteed. And the other thing I’d say is we always recommend that our clients talk with their neighbors. So if they’ve got a good relationship with their neighbors, they have a chat with them and try and keep it informal and friendly.

The first thing your neighbor hears about your development is not a letter from council saying you want to build a 3-storey building sort of thing.

Ryan: So talk to your neighbors.

Luke: It’s the best way. They’ll leave you out of problems.

Ryan: Yeah, well, talk to your neighbors, let them know that you’re building – how much would you let your neighbors know? Would you say, “I’m looking to build 3 buildings with a big balcony that overlooks your yard.” What would you say to your neighbors?

Luke: Well, usually, I would take them through the plans so you’re not really trying to hide things. And, the best designs do try and take into account the neighbors. You don’t want to have a window that’s looking directly into your neighbor’s bedroom.

You’re not necessarily trying to hide stuff. But, it does – you can then potentially lose some support from your neighbors and council put those in high regard. So if you’d talk through and alleviate some of the concerns of your neighbors – say your neighbors says, “I’m a bit concerned about where you’ve got that window.

Is there any chance you can shuffle it?” And you might be able to go, “Oh, yeah, okay. I can have a look at that with the architect and we can do that.” They might say, “Oh, we don’t have any objections. We’re not going to object and in fact, we might even write a letter saying that the client has been very generous in addressing some of our concerns. We don’t have any issues.” That plays very well with the council.

Ryan: Oh, okay. So then rather than dealing with the objections using council as the mediator, you’re kind of mediating it yourself and talking through it.

Luke: That’s right.

Ryan: Okay, cool.

Luke: So that’s the public exhibition stage once you’ve lodged your DA.

Ryan: And how long does that last for?

Luke: Typically, about 2 weeks. And then, council will put a planner on board. So a planner is employees of council that are there to address the development side of the suburb. They will look at your application and assess it against the different council controls. Council has a number of controls. One set is called the DCP, Development Control Plan.

The other one’s called the LEP and they’re local and state planning laws that determine, set out what council would like to see. Not the look of the building, but the constraints that they want to see your building fit within. So, we’re talking about how much floor area, how far your building is set back from the boundary.

Ryan: Yeah. I’m guessing the architect would know this and this would come up in discussion with the client way before council submissions. You’ll be like, “Here’s your controls, this is what we have to work within.” So this is known before you go into the approval so they council’s now hired a planner to check over just to make sure you’ve ticked all their boxes, yeah?

Luke: That’s right, yeah. To a degree, it’s mayor assist. The DCP, the Development Control Plan, is a set of guidelines. It’s not set in stone.

It tells you roughly how it wants your building to sit within the site, for example. But, there’s scope for each in those controls and council will assess those on a merit basis. If you infringe on the set backs, is that you breaking the rules but are you still generally complying with the aims of the policy.

Ryan: So you can pick your battles and work outside some of the guidelines?

Luke: Yeah. Well, usually, you break the rules in some way and it’s just a question of how much and whether there’s an issue with those. Where you can’t break those rules, is when you go through the compliant development route. But, that’s a different story.

Ryan: Yeah. That episode was actually 402. So you can get it at onproperty.com.au/402 to look at compliant development as a way to fast track development. But yeah, you’d have to tick all the boxes. Because that’s why it’s fast tracked, right? Because you’ve done everything within the guidelines. So it’s a faster process.

Luke: Exactly.

Ryan: So in terms of the DA then, so the council has a planner looking at it. And then the planner has to approve it, I’m guessing. Is that it for the process or is there more to it? How long does it take?

Luke: It can be a fairly involved process, but to keep it simple, the planner assess it. If they assess that it should be approved, then they approve it. It may be conditional, so they may say, “We approve it, but we want screens on your balcony so that there’s some privacy.” for example.

They may send it up a chain of command within council so that a more senior person has to look at it. It might go before a panel that looks at the assertibility of the development. They might just straight out refuse it. And if they straight out refuse it, in most cases, you can ask them to re-assess it or you can go to fairly drastic avenue.

But more and more it happens, you can take it to the Land and Environment court. So, basically, you get the court to look at the development, so it’s not council.
Ryan: Okay, so is this kind of like a worse case scenario?

Luke: It is. But, lots of developers do it. What we find, it’s a route the developers take. Often because they’re trying to max out different controls and they want to really get the most they possibly can. So it ends up being an argument between yourself and council in court.

Ryan: Okay. So that’s a potential avenue. But, that’s if you break too many controls, right?

Luke: Yeah. Or, if your neighbors are objecting to something that you just don’t want to give way on.

Ryan: Okay. Is there a way to talk about timeline and how long it will take? Or, is it just so changes from development to development?

Luke: It does, really and it’ll change from architect to architect. But, what you can say is that as soon as you put a development in council, there are set times that developments have to be approved within.

And if councils are particularly busy, those times could easily max out to 100 days or a number of councils, in New South Wales, at least, that have had those in the last couple of years. And that’s one of the reasons they’re trying to push this compliant development route because it doesn’t further the burden to council and things can be moved along without that.

Ryan: Yeah so if you’re looking to build your house quickly and you’re willing to compromise on things, then compliant development might be the better way to go for people, right?

Luke: Yeah, yeah.

Ryan: I guess that covers DA approval, right? Then, let’s say you go through all these processes and then it comes back and it’s approved or it’s conditionally approved or whatever. Is that ending phase 1 in terms of planning and development?

Luke: It is, really. So you make it that all things going well, you get that approval and you can sit on that approval for a while. You don’t have to start building straight away.

You can have that approval in your back pocket and you can start to build whenever you like. But yeah, that’s the end of that stage of things. The next stage is starting on down the construction route.

Ryan: Okay, yup, and we’ll get on to that in the next video.

Well, I hope you enjoyed that interview with Luke Durack on getting your development from just being in your head in the planning phase, all the way through to getting development approval and being ready to draw up your construction documents and get your property built.

In the next episode, we will talk about those next steps in more detail. Looking at the construction documents, getting your construction certificate, selecting a good builder for right price as well as going through the construction process as well.

So if you’re serious about developing something or doing a renovation, then the next episode is something that you really want to watch. Go to onproperty.com.au/409 to see that next episode. Or, simply click the links below this video.

If you want to check out more about Luke, then head over to durackachitects.com. So that’s spelled D-U-R-A-C-K architects.com or you can just go ahead and Google Durack Architects and it should come up.

Thanks so much to Luke for sharing his knowledge, for being transparent about the whole process and giving you guys a great understanding and helping us as a community.

So, really appreciate Luke for coming on and sharing his knowledge.

Again, go ahead and check him out if you need and architect at durackarchitects.com. But, until the next episode, when we’re back to talk about the following steps, stay positive.

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