Planning permit application. Three words that sends fear through people, turning them whiter than a minimalist interior. If you have a small block, more than one house proposed (commonly referred to as a “development”), or heritage controls, you need a planning permit from the local council. Yes the council. However, the role of a planning permit is an important one; it’s about being good neighbours. Planning permission guidelines are a set of rules to protect the amenity of your site from your neighbours’ proposals, and them from you. In Victoria the rules created by the state government which local council planning departments put into effect for residential properties, are collectively called ‘Rescode’. The process of lodging a planning permit application unfortunately takes time, anywhere from 3 to 12 months depending on what you propose. There are also additional costs for preparing the application drawings and the council fees. This is frustrating when you just want to get on with your project, it’s also understandable you will be fearful of the council not granting you a permit. However, let me share with you the 7 biggest mistakes to avoid, and you will maximise your chances, and minimise your frustrations. Having achieved a 100% success rate in obtaining planning approvals in the 11 years running my practice, I know what to do and what not to do.
Mistake 1 – Buying the wrong property.
The biggest mistake you can make, and very costly one at that, is buying a property not suitable for what you want to do. This can easily be avoided. Speak to an architect or plannerbefore you buy, they will discuss with you your chances of getting a permit for what it is you propose. Planning can be a minefield; it’s not as easy as buying any block and doing what you want with it. Get in an expert who has the knowledge and the experience to know what the local council will and won’t support, and if the block you are keen on is best suited to accommodate your vision.
Mistake 2 – Ignoring the rules – RESCODE.
The job of the council’s planning department is to scrutinise your proposal. If it’s too tall, too close to the boundary etc, you will be asked to change it or refused a permit. I see all to often people ignoring the rules. Don’t give the council ammunition to use against you; it will slow your application down considerably and you will ultimately have to change your proposal to comply, costing you time and money. A good design will accommodate your needs within the rules; push against them but not over them.
Mistake 3 – Over development.
If your proposal is out of scale or proposes an increase in density well above that existing in the street, you are asking for trouble. We can’t expect dramatic change to happen overnight, propose an incremental increase in density only; this will not cause detriment to the character of the street that its residents enjoy. This topic was covered in greater depth in my previous blog on inappropriate development.
Mistake 4 – Creating reason for objections.
Your immediately adjoining neighbours, and any objections they lodge has a big impact on the council’s decision. Remember it’s their job to ensure you will not cause any adverse affect on them, so don’t give them reason to object. Put yourself in your neighbours’ shoes; create a design proposal sympathetic to their property. This is not to say the neighbours are dictating what you can do. It’s about good design. Position bulkier elements of your proposal further from their sensitive interfaces, like living room windows, by instead placing them alongside less sensitive interfaces like blank walls etc. Your neighbours were there first, work with that not against it.
Mistake 5 – Not speaking to your neighbours.
You aren’t obligated to, however if the first they know of your proposal is the advertising board on your fence, they will be surprised, probably shocked. This may upset them, which will only increase their suspicions and likelihood of objecting. Approach the neighbours before you submit to council. Talk them through your proposal together with your architect, showing them how the design follows the rules. Ask if they have any concerns. If you have designed according to the code their objections will have no grounds and no impact at council.
Mistake 6 – Not speaking to the council prior to lodging your planning permit application.
Different councils have ‘local variations’ to Rescode. As the name suggests these are rules amended to suit what they feel will serve their municipality best. In addition there are more subjective elements of Rescode, relating to a proposals shape and aesthetics, which different councils will have different views on. Not showing your design in its infancy to the council is a recipe for disaster. Get their feedback early on, it will bring to your attention any concerns they may have so you can design accordingly. These are easy to change when at the sketch design phase, saving you money, and lengthy delays with council later.
Mistake 7 – Not submitting comprehensive planning drawings.
Rescode defines what drawings make up a planning application set. Also the information those drawings must contain. Miss anything and you will get the dreaded ‘Request for further information’ letter. The council planning departments are always dealing with more applications than they can handle, they will happily slow you down to give themselves a chance to clear some of their existing application load.
A final note.
Missing from this list is design quality. This is something the planning policies do not address and therefore don’t assess. In my opinion this is unacceptable, and the reason why so much of what is approved is such bad design, making no attempt to add great architecture to our streets, and harming the quality of housing we have on offer. All the best with your project. Spend the time and money to get it right and you will contribute something positive to your neighbourhood, by creating great housing and yourself a more valuable asset.