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Do I need council approval for my outdoor renovation?

Do I need council approval for my outdoor renovation?
April 29, 2020 Tony Palmer

Do we need council approval for landscaping?

If you find yourself asking this age-old question, these days there is a high probability that will need council approval. 

Close proximity living, enormous houses, tiny parcels of land & ambiguous interpretations of the residential design codes. It’s a recipe for disaster & of course there is going to be a dispute on the horizon. 

This is where Perth’s local councils step in to enforce & regulate the nail-gun trigger-happy owners, builders & landscapers to ensure all comply with local planning schemes, design or building codes, legislation & policies.

Before you make plans for that new outdoor structure to compliment your landscaping project, whether that be a deck, gazebo, carport, garage, pergola, alfresco patio, retaining wall, arbor, boundary wall, swimming pool (just to name a few things that typically need approvals). You need to seek approval from your local council first & can initially be discussed over the counter with your local Duty Planner without any associated fees. (This is the best way to do the preliminary checks to make sure your vision is actually going to be permitted). Some like-for-like building concessions can be made, but this is subject to council discretion. Don’t assume it’s ok, always check. No two council’s are the same either.

Not all works need council approval though. House internal non-structural or cosmetic changes typically do not need council approval. However, external building works within your landscaping & outdoor living area is a totally different kettle of fish. External & landscaping works can have more effect on other neighbouring properties, especially the hardscaping works & structures. This is why council’s need to be more involved.

A general rule of thumb is for any structures that introduce a level change or platform where it could facilitate overlooking into another property would typically need council approval. This threshold is for the proposed works to equal or is greater than 500mm from existing ground level (Like a deck or raised planter bed). This also applies for any structures exceeding a height of 2.4m & within the boundary setback stipulated by the zoning type of your property & which boundary you are referring to (Like a pergola or patio). Front, rear & side boundaries have different setback requirements & should be investigated depending on your local particular planning scheme. That’s right, different property zones & different boundaries have different rules! We would also suggest you refer to the Residential Design Codes of WA too. These are free to download from https://www.dplh.wa.gov.au/rcodes

Planning & Building Approval

If your proposed outdoor building works, such as a patio, gazebo, carport, garage, alfresco or the like, includes a roof cover (or exceeds the above stated building works parameters) in most local government sectors, Planning Approval (also known as Development Approval) is required as well as Building Approval. These two separate approvals come from two separate departments within your local council. Planning approval is the first permit you must seek, if required. Planning Approval is more related to how the proposal impacts the surrounding environment & amenity & is typically a prerequisite for a building permit to be issued. Building Approval is related to how the structure will be built & the engineering forces around this works to ensure a safe construction manner within the building codes.

Understanding the timeframes for approval is also important to mention here. If Planning Approval is to be involved on your project, please allow anywhere between 60-90 calendar days for this part alone. Once Planning Approval granted, you can now submit for Building Approval (Not before – in Perth). The time wait for Building Approval is anywhere between 10-25 working days, subject to whether you submit a ‘certified’ building application or ‘uncertified’ building application.

A ‘certified’ application is where you will need to contract a third-party building surveyor to certify the proposed plans comply with the national construction codes of Australia (NCC). This allows a faster building approval process (10 working days), as you are not relying on the council’s own Building Surveyor to certify the plans.

So, what if my planning application is refused?

It is quite common for landscape designers to push the limits of what is allowed. As the line is sometimes blurred from council to council, landscape designers want to maximise the use of the property for their clients & sometimes to council dissatisfaction. This is where it is vital to contract a designer with a good understanding of the rules, where to push to limits & where not to. There is no point having a beautiful design created, that would be flat out refused for approval.

Can I fight the rejection from council?

You can always appeal a decision. However, it is important you build a strong case to back up your argument. This is where professional Planning Consultants can work on your behalf. These specialist consultants can prepare reports based on the merits of your application in context to the impact on the surrounding environment. This can be quite a technical & detailed undertaking, so its best to leave this reporting to the professionals for the best chance of a successful appeal. Just know this process can take some time for approval & have a financial impact on the project.

What if I don’t get approval & do it anyway?

Should you not seek approval & just go ahead anyway, there are many risks that you should be aware of & financial risk is not the worst one. 

The process of council approval includes structural certification. Would you let your kids play under a pergola that wasn’t structurally engineered? Didn’t think so.

Safety is the number #1 reason for building approvals. Without regulating this, people will die. Simple as that. (For example, pool fencing needs building approval. If the pool fencing was not complaint, kids can drown) Deadly serious. Local government or the building commission can enforce these issues with hefty fines that can be directed towards the builder or the homeowner. 

Another important point to mention is you may wish to sell your property down the track, there could be difficulties selling your property without approval for some landscape building works you have completed & retrospective approvals are sometimes very difficult to get & can be a very expensive process.

Who should I contact for help?

The professional team at Luke’s Landscaping Co. can handle every aspect of your council approval process from planning approval, structural engineering, building certification, building approval & council liaison. Their designers have experience in all fields of landscape construction & sound knowledge of council rules & guidelines. Why risk doing it wrong? Click here to contact us now.

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Tony’s objective is to create a beautiful solution for you and your family’s outdoor space. With a strong background in landscape design & construction, all aspects can be considered from concept to completion.