Fast track your DA

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The most common question I receive from clients is: “Why is my DA taking so long to be approved?” Unfortunately, this is not such an easy question to answer because there are so many variables involved with the DA assessment process that make it difficult to give an exact timeframe. But there are ways you can improve the timeframes for your DA.

According to the latest statistics released by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment, it took on average 71 days for councils to assess DAs, while a further 17 councils took more than 100 days to determine a DA.

Equally as snail’s pace was the statistic that when councils requested further information from a third of applicants, they took on average 52 days to submit the additional information.

An urban planning consultant can assist by reviewing the relevant State and Council planning controls associated with the proposal and this could speed things up by ensuring there’s nothing missing and the application is accurate and fits with council planning controls, eliminating any subsequent questions which could delay the process.

An urban planner can also look at whether the site is affected by any constraints, such as stormwater or sewer pipes, trees or a steep slope. These types of constraints can significantly impact on the overall design, which is why we address all of the potential issues at the project’s get-go.

Another common issue with DAs is the ability of the neighbours to object to the proposal. Objections received from the neighbours significantly increases the time it takes council to assess the DA and can often lead to design changes being requested by Council. So speak to your neighbours first to keep them in the loop and take on board any concerns they may have.

There are a number of minor building works that can be undertaken without council approval. These are however bounded by regulations known as the NSW Housing Code.

Under these regulations, a homeowner can undertake primarily cosmetic or ancillary work to the house or backyard. This can include painting, garden shed, new roof tiles, deck, pergola, cabana, gazebo, balcony or even an aviary of up to 10sqm in area and 2.4m high.

If you’re looking to build a deck without council approval (classified as an Exempt Development so no need to get council’s OK) there are a number of considerations including that it can’t be more than 25sq m in area and it needs to be at least 900mm from the boundary fence. Some  landscaping work such as excavating up to 600mm depth of soil can be exempt, but this needs to be at least 1m from the side boundaries.

The catch with exempt development is that the proposed work needs to comply 100% with the regulations, otherwise it will require approval. Another consideration is whether the site/land is suitable for exempt development. This means that the land cannot be heritage listed, within a conservation area or if it’s in bushfire-prone land. If the site is located within these areas, approval will be needed.

If the homeowner is confident they meet all the regulations, then they can go and build. Two pieces of advice are to check with council first. While they won’t give written confirmation, they can provide informal advice and guide you in the right direction – and speak with the neighbours before you undertake the work.

At the end of the day, it’s the owner’s responsibility that the building work complies. Otherwise council may get involved if there’s a neighbour complaint. When dealing with exempt development, there’s often a grey area of whether the work is in fact exempt. It may be worthwhile just to apply for council approval to avoid the hassles of dealing with unauthorised work – failure to do so could incur fines if council finds out.

The NSW Government has a planning portal with a wealth of information including an interactive house. Go to: www.interactivebuildings.planning.nsw.au

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