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A town planner’s guide to DAs on the Northern Beaches

Ever thought that a town planner plans towns? 26 and Sunny co-host Cat Denney did until she and co-host Nick Freeman sat down for a chat with Dave Moody from Northern Development Assessment.


In the chat, they unpack exactly what a town planner does and dive into how a planner can help you navigate the DA process with less stress. They also find out whether it’s possible to bend the DA rules and how a town planner can help you get the most from your building envelope.



Dave Moody, Northern Development Assessment


Dave, what is a town planner and what do you do to assist the building process?

The primary role of a town planner is to assess your proposed development against the relevant NSW laws and local planning controls with the goal of making sure it complies. We also help you get the most from your land by helping you understand the rules and how your proposed development fits within them.


For instance, when families want to renovate their property, they engage me to assess the plans to determine if it will be passed by council and what can be done to assist the approval process.


On the flip side, you might have a neighbour that is undertaking a development and you’re not sure if the plans comply. In this situation, my role as a planner is to assess the development and come up with amendments that might be supported by council to lessen the impact on your property. I can help you decipher the plans that are being proposed because sometimes it can be very hard to picture what's going to be built.


So a planner can help you get a development approved, or get one stopped or modified.


Does town planning cover single residential properties only, or larger developments as well?

It encompasses everything from small-scale alterations and additions through to new builds and high-density forms of residential development like high-rise apartments.


Town planners also work on commercial projects, including for example people trying to open restaurants and cafes, or industrial factories. Basically, my work covers all forms of projects that require a DA.


When should a home renovator or builder get a town planner involved in the process?

It’s a good idea to have an understanding of your vision before you come and see a town planner. At the same time, you don't want to leave it too late because you might have a fully developed design that you love but the town planner will deliver the bad news that council won’t support it.


Ideally, it's great to get the planner in pretty early to identify any restrictions on the development. A good point in time is when the draft concept is ready. That way, you’ve got a high level idea of what you want to do but necessary changes can still be incorporated without having to pay the architect for extensive amendments.


What are the different ways you can get a build or renovation approved in NSW?

Great question. There are three different ways to carry out development in NSW.

First, there are exempt developments for really minor stuff such as garden sheds or minor internal alterations.


Once you fall outside those rules, you immediately require approval consent. You can get that through two different paths – a complying development or development application.


A complying development – or CDC – is issued by a private certifier. With a CDC, there is no assessment process in terms of the amenity impacts on your neighbours. It’s as simple as ‘if you tick all the boxes you are going to get an approval and you can start work’. Another benefit with complying developments is that the time factor in assessment is much quicker.


Once you fall outside CDCs, you’ll need to submit a DA. The main benefit of a DA is that you can do more with your parcel of land. It allows you to come up with your dream design as you're not restricted by the limitations imposed by a complying development. In other words, you can actually branch outside of the controls. For a DA, the assessment process is a lot stricter and it can take longer, but you may get a better outcome on design.


Do town planners specialise in particular LGAs or can they work in all areas?

For me it’s a bit of a mix. I work across NSW as laws are consistent across councils but I definitely prefer working on the Northern beaches as it's closer to home. However, having said that, it’s generally the case that familiarity with a particular council will assist you in the process.


Is a town planner needed if you’re building a project home?

Project homes are great if you’re looking for a cheaper construction cost, but there’s not much flexibility on design. Sometimes because they need amendments to work on a particular site, clients will get a planner involved to navigate that side of things.


Most project home are designed to be approved under a complying development so it may work on a rectangular, level block. But if you try to apply it somewhere else – for example on the beaches where land is not always flat and level – you can run into complications.


In addition, particularly around the Northern Beaches, you've got bushfire-prone land, various technical stability issues, and ecology issues. So there's a whole range of additional matters that need to be considered when you build a project home in an established area like here on the peninsular.


Can people go direct to council and ‘do it themselves’ or do they have to use a town planner?

Going direct to council is an option. Councils provide what’s called a ‘duty planning’ service where they give advice over the phone.


The drawback is that they're not assessing your particular development, so they're not going to look at your plans or give you advice about the DA you plan to lodge.

Council can advise you on what the planning controls are, but they're not going to advise you on ways you can vary them or potential amendments to a design that could work.


Hence, if you've got a specific inquiry that you need someone to actually inspect at the site, you’ll need to speak to a planner.


Are DA rules set in stone or can you get things approved that are outside the rules?

It’s complicated. For instance, just because you can build to a height of 8.5 meters doesn't mean council will approve 8.5 meters if you're blocking views or overshadowing your neighbours.


On the flip side, you might be able to go above 8.5 meters if you can prove to council that you aren't going to block views or cause overshadowing and so forth.


So, while the planning standards should be complied with in most cases, on certain sites you may be able to vary them and come up with a development that gets approved. However in most cases, if you're breaching rules and there’s impact on others, it won’t be supported.


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