The Town Planning Process

When is a planning permit required?

Many developments, like single houses and extensions to single houses, will only need a building permit.

However, often a planning permit is required for certain dwelling developments, and for many other types of land development or usage. The types of development and use that can trigger the need for a planning permit can include:

  • New dwellings or dwelling extensions on smaller sites, or on sites in heritage listed areas;
  • Multi-dwelling developments (townhouses, apartments and villa units);
  • Use and development of land for facilities like churches, schools, child care centres, function centres and recreational facilities;
  • Change of usage for a shopfront within a shopping centre;
  • Buildings and works to a shop or commercial building;
  • Buildings and works in industrial areas;
  • Changes of land use in industrial areas;
  • Many types of development, including sheds and dwellings, in rural areas.

Whenever you wish to change the use or development of land it is always important to check with the local Council as to whether a planning permit is required. Where a planning permit is required, the application process will include a number of steps. Get it right, and the process will become a lot easier.

Preparation

The process will often start by having a discussion about your ideas with the relevant Council planners or a private practice town planner. This will establish right up front what is appropriate for the site given its size, location, and surroundings. When you have established the feasibility of the proposal it is time to get the necessary paperwork ready. Generally, involving:

  • Architectural or drafting plans (drawings) of the proposal;
  • A copy of the Certificate of Title for the site and any relevant information regarding restrictions or covenants[1];
  • A planning report detailing the merits of the proposal and an assessment against Rescode[2];
  • A completed town planning application form
  • the application form requirements vary depending on which local Council;
  • It is best to put the application in the name of the property owner or developer – not the architect or town planner (if one is being used). You can always add on the form that all correspondence should be sent to a third party
  • Any other professional reports that may be useful or required to justify a use or development (e.g. traffic engineer’s report, landscape plan or in some instances a Cultural Heritage Management Plan).

Lodgement

All of the above material would be lodged with Council, along with the required fee. The fee can vary significantly and depends on the nature of the proposal and the potential cost.

Most often, lodgement is done over the counter at Council offices or lodged by post, with a cheque attached. However, it is becoming increasingly more common for Councils to prefer applications uploaded online, and/or submitted on a USB stick.

Council’s assessment steps

Preliminary Assessment

When an application is lodged with Council it will be given a file and a reference number and will be allocated to a planning officer to manage. Usually, 2-3 weeks after submitting the application, an acknowledgment letter will be sent to the applicant or the representative detailing relevant information.

The officer will then do an initial assessment of the application. This is to:

  • assess whether all the information needed by Council has been provided, and
  • whether there are any serious issues concerning the application.

Don’t stress! It is common that further information or suggested changes to the plans are required. There will be a time constraint as to when this further information will be required to be submitted by.

Advertising

When Council is confident it has all the necessary information, most often it will direct the advertising of the application. This notification will usually occur via letters sent to nearby property owners and occupiers, and by placing a sign on site for a 14-day period. Occasionally, depending on the development, a notice may have to be placed in the local newspaper.

Council will require proof at the end of the advertising period that the sign/s were up for the correct amount of time. All Council requirements will be clearly laid out in a letter that will accompany the advertising sign.

This notice enables affected parties to make submissions, including a written objection about a development (see Objections below).

There is always a fee for advertising and the cost will vary depending mainly on the number of signs to be erected on site (e.g. two on a corner site) and the number of notices to be sent out to property owners and occupiers. It is usually the role of Council to send out the written notices, but the role of the developer (or their representative) to place the sign/s on the site.

Referrals

Where appropriate, at the same time an application is being advertised, Council will refer it internally or externally to other departments or authorities. For example, if an area is known for flooding an application may be referred to Melbourne Water. If the development involves access from a main road, it may be referred to VicRoads for comment.

Objections

Any person who considers that approval of a planning permit will be detrimental to them, has the opportunity to submit a written objection. Someone wishing to object has 14 days from the time the notice of application is either erected on site, or notification is received in the mail.

If Council deems appropriate a meeting may be called where the developer, and/or representative and the objector/s are brought to together in a mediation type situation to see if a compromise can be reached.

The best way to avoid objections is to talk to your neighbours about the proposed development and try to eliminate any fears prior to the proposal being advertised formally.

Decision

Council may determine to either:

  • Issue a Permit (if there are no objections);
  • Issue a Notice of Decision to Grant a Permit (if objections have been received, but Council considers that the proposal is acceptable); or
  • Refuse to Grant a Permit

VCAT

If an application for a Planning Permit has been refused or conditions have been placed on the permit which the Applicant does not agree with, the applicant may appeal to VCAT within 60 days of Council’s decision. Similarly, should any objectors to the application be dissatisfied with Council’s decision to grant a permit, appeals can be made to VCAT within 21 days of Council’s decision.

[1] https://www.landata.vic.gov.au

[2] A state government design code setting standards for residential developments that require a permit