What is town planning, and how do I know if I need it?
Town planning is about gaining approval for building works from the relevant council in the form of a planning permit. It is usually required when:
- Building more than one dwelling on a block. Even building a new home in your back yard may require a town planning application, depending on the size of the block.
- Working with a small block – often under 500m2 or in some cases 300m2 depending on the area.
- There is an overlay such as heritage protection.
- Requiring dispensation – for example you may want a 2m high fence in an area where the regulations only allow 1.2m.
Note that a planning permit is not the same as a building permit and the required drawings are different. A planning permit approves the development and is issued by the relevant council. In order to build you normally require a building permit which is issued by a building surveyor and relates to how the building is constructed, with a focus on safety. A planning permit can only be obtained through the relevant council while a building permit can be obtained by an independent building surveyor outside of council.
Why is town planning necessary
Town planning may be frustrating at times it is designed to maintain standards. The fact that Australia is such a beautiful country with such beautiful cities is largely thanks to its approach to planning. Town planning is designed to prevent our neighbourhoods from running astray with unscrupulous developers carving up properties and producing inappropriate results. While we may argue that our suburbs are already filling up with what we call “cheeseburger houses”, cheap, nasty and rushed designs, the situation would be a lot worse without town planning.
So, town planning exists for the greater good of our urban environments and therefore we should be respectful of its objectives and ideals.
Do we need an architect for town planning?
Essentially “no” is the answer for smaller developments, however it is very important to understand the dangers of not using an architect and the benefits of engaging one. If you are looking to build a “cheeseburger” house that simply ticks off all the boxes in order to gain permits, then an architect could seem expensive. However, if you want to achieve more than just the very basics, your chances of getting approval may be limited unless you have a good architect on board.
WOLF ARCHITECTS are not known for mediocre projects and would not be inclined to take on a project that results in a “cheap and nasty” build. However, you are most likely reading this article because you want to see your project benefit from the WOLF brand. With this in mind we suggest you read on to understand the benefits of using an architect, and more importantly, the points of difference using WOLF will afford you.
What are the associated costs with town planning?
This varies according to the nature of the project, and the respective councils. The application fees themselves are relatively small, however architects will charge more for services that involve planning permits. A significant amount of information is always necessary to provide an accurate estimate. Ticking all the boxes required by council is not difficult and there are many builders and drafting firms offering to do just that, for very little. Cheap fees however should always be considered with great caution in an industry where you get what you pay for.
Architects are entitled to charge significantly more than a draftsperson or less qualified designer as they offer more. This is especially true when trying to get a contemporary development approved in areas that are dominated by traditional building styles. The process of negotiating through council’s requirements, and finding the best compromise takes time, knowledge, experience, and great skill. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that permits will be granted, but we believe that using a good architect greatly increases chances. This is because architects have the ability to think outside the box and devise alternative solutions which satisfy all parties.
With multiple dwelling developments, the fees will vary in relation to the number of dwellings on a site. More dwellings will always be more onerous than less. Importantly, the variations between each dwelling affect fees. Four identical houses will be easier and less time consuming to document than four completely different dwellings. The same applies to multi-level apartment buildings. The more unit variations, the more design work.
It can be hard to understand the possibilities until the design process has commenced, though there should be an agreement between the client and the architect as to what can be achieved. WOLF ARCHITECTS will generally invest significantly into studying the feasibility of a project early on and create, together with the client, a strategic plan for how to move forward with town planning.
It is important to understand that if, for example, council rejects an application for three houses and the architect must re-work the proposal for two houses, that there would be considerable extra work. This additional work must be allowed for and paid for as appropriate, especially in situations where the architect has advised previously that three houses would probably not be permitted.
In terms of architects’ fees, an average range of between 10% and 30%, in addition to their standard fees, may apply with projects involving town planning. When providing lump sum or fixed fees an architect may only allow up until the first application submission, after which an hourly rate would apply. This unfortunately is necessary, as dealing with council can be subjective and unpredictable time-wise. It is not uncommon for designs to be unreasonably contested between council’s ideas and those of any objectors. In unfortunate situations where this occurs, the architect is unable to guarantee the amount of design reiterations or time-frames. Some clients may be unreasonable in their expectations and overly hopeful that they can get non-compliant designs approved. Thus, an hourly rate is often the only fair solution.
With highly complex projects such as ones with significant heritage overlays, an independent specialist planner may be required to work closely with the architect and this is an additional cost that should be allowed for.
How long does it all take?
This will depend on the nature of the project. Trying to squeeze four dwellings onto a block as opposed to just two is obviously more challenging and will take longer. For projects with two to three dwellings, WOLF ARCHITECTS suggest an allowance of six to twelve months on top of the design stages. While this may seem like a long time, it’s important to recognize the benefit compared with not gaining approval at all. While other practices may promote misleading approval times, WOLF guarantees you will receive value for your money.
Projects attracting objectors will inevitably extend the time-frame from anywhere between six to eight months, depending on the quantity and nature of the objections. If all parties cannot agree and the process extends to a tribunal, the time-frames will extend further again. Thus, the main message here is that anything involving town planning significantly adds to the project’s time-frame and it can be near impossible to have strict deadlines.
At WOLF ARCHITECTS, it is not within our usual approach to consider excessive dispensations or going to tribunals as being the norm or appropriate. From our experience the overall costs and frustrations from projects at tribunal are rarely worthwhile. WOLF ARCHITECTS will generally decline projects and clients unwilling to work reasonably within council guidelines, expecting to get favourable outcomes through tribunal.
Why use WOLF ARCHITECTS for projects requiring town planning?
Unfortunately, the professionals in council (making the decisions) rarely have design backgrounds or are artistic in nature. Having a recognised name such as WOLF ARCHITECTS can hold weight as we are expected to produce finer work compared with someone less qualified.
Don’t be fooled by people claiming, “We have done it all many times before and know the relevant council well.” Many reputable architects, including WOLF ARCHITECTS, have been passed over due to this claim. While experience is important, we believe that claiming to have delivered a particular type of project over and over again does not inspire creativity.
Council regulations are not rocket science and complying with their codes is fairly straight forward. Design, however, is a much more subjective topic and contemporary designs can look terrible if not done right. We believe that unless contemporary designs are done well, by good architects, council will generally be inclined to refuse applications in preference of more conservative, traditional designs. The key to successful town planning is therefore design excellence and this is what WOLF ARCHITECTS is known for.
We at WOLF ARCHITECTS are renowned for our modern, contemporary designs and our clients expect such creativity and quality in their developments. It is important, however, to realise that the path to successful planning approvals is not always as straight forward as it should be. Contemporary designs do not often fall within council’s requirements with respects to neighbourhood context. Award winning designs rarely tick all the boxes necessary to gain approval. Our high standards tend to set our work apart from the norm and this goes against council’s preference to blend in. It’s an argument we’ve had since day one, since blending in encourages mediocrity rather than excellence.
Nevertheless our track record of having many contemporary developments approved is testimony to our experience and proficiency in gaining town planning approvals.