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Certificates of Use, Development and Planning Approvals

This varies from state to state, and moreover from Council to Council. Some Councils don’t get involved at all, some get involved in the kind of laborious detail that can derail the simplicity of Renew style projects. But, in theory, this is what happens:

  1. To use a building legally, it will need to have a Certificate of Use. This is usually buried deep within a council archive or in the filing cabinets of a property owner. Sometimes it exists in theory only. Basically what a Certificate of Use does is legally declare that the building you’re using meets a minimum level of safety, environmental impact, disability access, and local planning and zoning ordinances, for a specific purpose. For example, it can be used for the purposes of retail, or for accommodation, or for offices or as a warehouse. For more detail on these uses, look at the section on building uses as outlined by the Building Code of Australia
  2. If the Building doesn’t have a Certificate of Use, or you want to change its Use to something else (for instance, if you want to turn an office into a music venue), you need to seek approval to do so through the local council. If you don’t, legally you can’t use that building and you can, under state law, be fined or forced to stop using that building. You obtain that approval by applying for Planning and/or Development Approval.

Development Approval usually means Council has approved your use of a building and any changes you might be making to it.

Planning Approval usually means Council has approved that your use of a building suits their local zoning regulations – which covers things like noise, entertainment, parking and so on.

Different councils handle these two things differently.

Unless you absolutely have to, you should avoid going through this process. It’s expensive (sometimes over a $1000), time consuming (it usually takes 4 to 6 weeks) and incredibly annoying.

You can usually tell if the building has an existing use by asking the landlord, “So does this space have an Existing Use and what is it? Or will we need to apply for approval through Council?” Alternately, ask around and find out what the space used to be used for and try to use it for roughly the same purpose.

If you can’t find out, technically you should check with your council. But if you’re not doing anything dangerous, different or likely to piss off the local traders, neighbours or so on, it’s often just assumed you have the right to use that space.