What's the best approval pathway for my home renovation?

When you are looking to build a new home or undertake a major renovation in Sydney, you are generally presented with two options for getting your plans approved: Development Application (DA) or Complying Development Certificate (CDC). While each option presents its own pros and cons, the two main differences between these are: 

  1. Speed of approval, and
  2. Level of plan flexibility.

Either way, a DA or CDC must be lodged and have approval granted by the respective entity before any building work can commence on your project.

We chatted to Principal Architect, James Pilcher and the team at MILEHAM, an Architect and custom home builder based in Freshwater, for his insight.

Development Applications

A Development Application (DA) is submitted through your local council. The specific controls for a DA may vary, depending on the local council your block resides in, and will be laid out in that council’s Development Control Plan (DCP) and Local Environmental Plan (LEP).

It’s a good idea to speak to your direct neighbours about your plans before you lodge your DA and discuss any potential concerns or objections they may raise, to give you an opportunity to address and resolve these prior to lodgement.

At the application lodgement stage, council will ensure you’ve supplied the correct documentation, request any additional required information, notify neighbours (and the community, where applicable), and engage internal or external expert referrals. You will also be allocated an assessment officer as a main point of contact for your DA.    

The assessment stage will directly follow, where council will review all documentation within your application and assess each element against their DCP and LEP. There is typically a margin of leniency incorporated into council’s development controls, and any specific elements of your design that fall outside of these parameters will be assessed on merit. This level of flexibility is the key advantage of taking the DA approval pathway versus CDC.  At the determination (or decision) stage, there can be three outcomes:

  1. Development Consent – granted (as is, or with conditions)
  2. DA Refusal – with reasons outlined, or
  3. Deferred Commencement Consent – that is, a consent not operating until one or more important matters are resolved. This is not a common outcome.

After consent has been granted, the final stage is gaining a Construction Certificate, which must be received before any building commences.

The entire DA process takes anywhere from 3 months on average. In general, the clearer and more detailed your initial documentation is, the faster the process may be. If council needs to “stop the clock” to request and await further information, or if changes need to be made to your plans, additional time will be added to the approval process.    

Complying Development Certificate

A Complying Development Certificate (CDC) is assessed by a private certifier (rather than your local council) and is judged against a set development standard known as a Code. The Code is a statewide planning control, so there are no differences in planning codes between different local council areas. If you hire a private certifier to issue a CDC, your local council must still be informed, although they have no say in the approval process.

The quantity of documentation for a CDC submission is not as onerous as what is required for most DA’s. Your private certifier will assess and approve your design if it complies with the Code. This means if just one aspect of your design does not meet the specified Code, your application will be rejected – there is no leniency or flexibility to this. This lack of flexibility often means you need to make compromises to your design to satisfy Code requirements, as opposed to councils granting leniency in a DA for being unable to meet their development control. This may restrict the parameters through which you can achieve your design vision.

The CDC approval option exists so that low-impact developments can bypass a local council’s approval process (which can, at times, be onerous), and hence tends to be much faster (around 2-3 weeks) than a DA in approval turnaround (which takes anywhere from 3 months).

More information on Complying Development can be found on the NSW Government Department of Planning website.

Which approval process should you choose?

Keeping an open mind at the start of your design journey is key to ensuring the best outcome for your project, as opposed to designing to a set of pre-determined rules established by your local council or the CDC guidelines. While there is obvious appeal in getting your renovation or new build approved quickly, the ultimate goal should focus on achieving your vision.

After agreeing on initial design concepts, your architect will be able to advise whether a DA or CDC is the most suitable approval avenue for your project.

This decision will depend on:

  • the local council you are building in
  • the design of the home you are building/renovating
  • the block or land you are developing, and
  • the time frame you’re looking to build in.

In general, if you have a straightforward build or renovation that can easily meet CDC guidelines, and time is of the essence, approval via CDC is quicker and slightly more cost-effective.

If, on the other hand, your dream home falls outside the strict CDC guidelines, you are renovating under heritage restrictions, or if your home is in an environmentally sensitive area, submitting a DA through council may be your only option. While the DA process does take longer, it can be a relatively smooth process if you have detailed, professional documentation and are not looking to overstep the somewhat flexible guidelines of a council’s development controls.

Do I need a DA or CDC for a home renovation in Sydney

Who can help with your application submission?

Application submissions can be daunting, which is why MILEHAM manages this process on behalf of their clients. They offer a service where they can complete all the necessary paperwork and architectural documentation, liaise with all the necessary consultants for the required reports, and handle any queries or additional information requirements from council or the private certifier that may come back regarding your application. They also look after procurement of the Construction Certificate for your project so you may begin your build.

Further Reading:

  • There are some developments which are exempt from DA or CDC approval. You can view the legislation and provisions via the NSW Government website.
  • Your local council website will have a section dedicated to local developments. This section will contain information on the DA process and the documentation required for your area.

If you would like more information on any of the above or would like to discuss your build or renovation with James and the MILEHAM team then please contact 0410 723 203 or check out their listing here. 

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