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When You’ll Need Development or Planning Approval

Because the application of development and planning law varies from state to state, and from council to council, it can often be confusing as to when you need to seek legal approval for the use of a building.

As Renew projects work on finding the easiest way through this system, it’s useful to know not only when you need to seek approval, but under what conditions you don’t need to seek approval. This all comes down to a series of things outlined, usually, within state law, and applied by local councils, called “Triggers”, or the points at which the Council HAS to make you seek development approval. Again, these vary a bit from state to state and their application varies widely from council to council. The main ones are:

(1) If the building has been empty for a certain period of time, you often need to reapply for a Use. It’s usually two years. But not all councils enforce this.

(2) If you’re doing any major development – like stuff that’s costing more than $50,000 or so – to the building. The amount varies from state to state. If you’re doing a Renew style project, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be worrying about this. If a building requires $50,000 worth of upgrades, you should avoid using it.

(3) You want to legally change the building’s Use from one category to another you open up a minefield. The common one is changing a retail space to a music venue. This is like opening Pandora’s Box.

Legally, you have to go through a Planning and Development Approval nightmare when you do any of those things. This will involve a council building inspector coming to your building and deciding whether it meets ‘deemed to satisfy’ requirements – basically whether they thinks it’s safe or not. They can get in considerable trouble if they deem a building safe to use and something goes wrong – even something relatively minor. So they’re usually pretty cautious. They will look for things that might go wrong. Fixing them might cost you thousands of dollars.

So try to avoid hitting any triggers as much as possible unless you REALLY REALLY need to.

That said, even if you’ve got a space with an Existing Use, Council can still make you apply for a  development approval. They’ll do this, in short, because they think you’re a risk and they want to legally protect themselves. The usual reasons they do this are:

(1) You’ve pissed someone off. No, honestly. If you annoy your neighbours, local traders or someone in local council, their first step will be to make you apply for development approval. This is kind of like them saying, “Who let you into our main street?” Even if you do have the right to be there, this process is draining and you should avoid it. You can do so by simply making friends with the neighbours and stressing that this is a not for profit community project designed to attract foot traffic. Local businesses are often key stakeholders in Renew style projects – it’s good to work with them and keep them on side.

(2) You’re running a gallery or theatre space in a building with poor disability access facilities. Councils crack down on this because, under the Disability Discrimination Act, they can be sued for discrimination if they allow cultural activity to occur in a building which isn’t accessible to those affected by a disability.

(3) You’re using an old shop front as a music venue. This is a classic one. Councils will crack down on you and make you apply for development approval because music venues are loud (and there are laws around noise restriction), because alcohol is often served on site (and there are laws around liquor licensing), because residents might complain or because you’re using a venue that doesn’t have full disability access and thus they might get sued under the Disability Discrimination Act.

(4) You’re using an old warehouse to have massive parties. As above.

(5) You’ve put out a sandwich board or painted the front of your building. No. Really. Councils in most states legally monitor the use of street furniture and building facades and demand approvals for both.

Avoid all these things whenever possible.