Town Planning – Do I Need a Permit to Build?

What is Town Planning?

Defined town planning is:

The planning and control of the construction, growth, and development of a town or other urban area.

In more practical terms it is usually referred to as just planning and is the control of both new and existing developments. Planning involves finding a balance between new buildings and the natural environment, immediate community and sustainability.

Do I Need a Planning Permit?

Before we tackle this question it is important to distinguish between a planning permit and a building permit. Generally speaking, a planning permit is concerned with the way land is to be used and/ or developed and a building permit is concerned with the standard to which a building is constructed. More about these permits can be found in a previous post we wrote My Dream Home Extension – Plans and Permits – Part 5

So do you need a planning permit? Generally, planning permits are required when:

  • You are making a change to the use of your property e.g. changing a café into a hair salon.
  • You are adding an extension to your current home where it may overlook a neighbour’s property, add height to your current home or infringe your neighbour’s amenity.
  • You are adding to a small residential block under 500sqm.
  • Your property is within a heritage overlay.
  • You are constructing another dwelling on your property e.g. a granny flat.

Your local council’s Town Planning department will have all the rules and regulations associated with building a new extension and it is best, if you are managing your own application, to check with them. However, a good registered building practitioner will be able to do the checks for you as part of the building process. We have found that approximately 10-20% of the extensions that we build do require a planning permit.

What do I Need to do if I Require a Planning Permit?

If you require a planning permit to build your new home extension there is a process to follow. Before lodging an application for a permit it is essential to have prepared all the relevant information. Hiring an experienced building practitioner to manage this will make the process easier and remove some of the uncertainty and stress associated with obtaining a permit. However, the following steps/ information will help you to understand the process of lodging a permit application.

The first thing is to do your homework. It is vital to research the planning policies or guidelines that may apply to your proposed extension and determine if your extension meets the requirements of these policies.

Next, you should undertake an analysis of your site. Note down what the opportunities and constraints are for building an extension on your site. You may need to engage a surveyor to record the exact boundaries, slopes and conditions of your site; the council permit process may require this, particularly for sloping sites, height issues or building on boundaries. Sketch some plans of your proposed building as a result of analysing your site. At this stage it’s also great to engage with your neighbours to discuss any possible impacts your new extension will have on their property and lifestyle. The key here is to eliminate any potential objections they may have to your new extension.

Before you lodge an application you should request a pre-application meeting with your Town Planning department. This is a great opportunity to see if you are on the right track and for your council to advise you of any planning regulations you may not have considered.

Once your plans have been finalised do a final review and also conduct a final check with your neighbours. It is worth putting the effort in at this stage to significantly improve your chances of obtaining a planning permit without any restrictive conditions as a result of objections. Even if you don’t require a planning permit it is good to check with your neighbours.

Now you can lodge your application for a planning permit.

What next?

Once your planning permit has been lodged the council will review it. If the council thinks your proposed extension will affect your neighbours then you must give official notice. It effectively means you need to put a sign of notice on your property and send letters to your local residents detailing your proposed building. Any neighbour opposed to your building project is known as an objector. The scale of your proposed extension and the number of objectors will determine who makes the decision to refuse or approve (with or without conditions) your planning permit (we recently posted a great article on reducing neighbourly objections). Objectors cannot object for the sake of it, they must have eligible grounds based on local planning laws and ResCode (Residential Design Code).

If the development satisfies the council and there are no objections then a planning permit will be issued. If there are objections then it is at the discretion of the decision-makers to disregard or consider the objections as part of the approval/ refusal process. The council may approve your planning permit but attach conditions to the permit. If you don’t agree with the conditions you can lodge an appeal at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT – this is in Victoria, Australia). Also be aware that if you are granted a permit but there were objectors, the objectors can also make an appeal to VCAT. However, if you have previously communicated your extension proposal to your neighbours and ironed out any resulting problems there should be no objections.

If a planning permit is refused you will be sent a letter outlining why it was refused. If you disagree with the decision you can also appeal to VCAT.

How long does it take to obtain a Planning Permit?

The whole process of obtaining a building permit can take up to 12 months. That’s why it is advisable to engage a building practitioner to manage this for you; it should be part of their whole project process. For an overview of our tried and tested process check our building process.

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