"Getting through council is a wonderful, learning experience designed to assist the rate payer ensure that their project is sustainable in every way"......said no one ever!
Getting through council in Melbourne is a necessary evil. Don't expect logic or fairness or you will be sorely disappointed. Every council is different, as is every town planner. If you happen to get a town planner with a God complex, then buckle up, you are in for a bumpy ride.
So if I was going to build all over again, what would I do differently? Here's a list which may help you navigate your own experience with the devil incarnate, oh excuse me, also known as your local council town planner.
1. Know your overlays and your block of land - this is as easy as logging on to Land Victoria for those of us living in Victoria. Other Australian states have similar websites you can use. Type in the address of your block and voila...the planning overlays affecting your title will be listed. Best to jot these down, you will need them. You can also get this information from your section 32, however if you have had your block as long as we have and the section 32 is in a file somewhere under your house, then Land Victoria is the way to go.
2. Visit the devil online - simply go to your local council's web address. Search on their planning descriptions. For our council, all the various planning overlays were contained in one 1000 page document, but before you fear death by legislation, you only need to refer to those overlays which affect you, as such, the reading for us was a mere 100 pages or so. One hundred pages seems a lot, however it is imperative that you understand what you can and can't do, on the bright side, you will have the best few weeks' sleep of your life! For us, knowing the detail of our overlays helped us negotiate a positive outcome with council as I could speak with authority about certain issues and refer them back to their own guidance.
3. Visit the devil at his/her place of residence - your local council offices. When you have lodged a planning application, find out who your planner is and ask to meet with them as soon as it can be arranged. We didn't do this, however I wish we had have. It is easier to negotiate with people face to face than over the phone or by email where the devil's helpers (planners) can be as rude and unhelpful as they like. On that note, it doesn't hurt to know who your planner's two away manager is - we needed to contact this two away manager to assist us with his staff member, let's call her Attila for short.
4. It's good to have friends - on council! Fortunately a colleague and friend of mine is on the Board Audit Committee for the council which governs our property, he was able to help me with people to contact if we got stuck. Also having an ex-colleague who happened to be a Mayor of a neighbouring council didn't go astray either. Add to that a mum from school who was a town planner for another Melbourne council and this provided of wealth of inside information which was incredibly helpful for final negotiations. If you are not as fortunate in this regard, then there are services that you can engage to assist with getting through council, they do come at a cost though.
5. Here's a taste of some of the fun and games we dealt with. Our block required a BAL assessment. A BAL assessment is a Bush Fire Attack level rating. These provisions were introduced after the tragic 'Black Saturday' bush fires in February 2009. Fortunately, our block is at one of the lowest ratings which reduces the additional requirements, however without a doubt, money well spent. You would think having a BAL rating would mean you would have a Bush Fire Management overlay (BMO) on your property - think again, these two requirements at present, do not go hand in glove. A BMO assists in relaxing some of the native vegetation rules to assist the land owner manage their bush fire risk. What that meant for us is that we have to be BAL compliant without getting any of the assistance that the BMO can provide. Add to that the State wide 10/30 rule - that's a rule that allows vegetation clearance within 10 metre of where your house is located....did I say state wide rule?...ahhmm. Yes, it is a state wide rule introduced by the Royal Commission after Black Saturday, however 21 councils in Melbourne are exempt from the benefits of this rule, of course, our council is one that is exempt. Two doors to the right of our property, is the boarder for the neighbouring council, that council does allow the state wide 10/30 rule to be used. So in a nutshell, we have additional cost and burden for the build based on the BAL applied to our property, however no assistance from either the BMO planning overlay or the "State-wide" 10/30 rule. Our neighbours two doors down though, can remove vegetation to their hearts content.
We have a low-density overlay which applies to our property, originally this was one of the reasons we purchased the property as it meant that the area will never be over developed. Not far from our block there are a number of beautiful acre blocks, however our block is 1200 sqm in what is really a suburban street. Our block is rectangular, 20 meters frontage and 60 meters deep, however our overlay required us to have a meandering driveway....huh? How do you have a meandering driveway on a regular, rectangle block? Council did concede that this was not possible, however not without time delays and going back and forth over and over again. Furthermore, they wanted the driveway to be gravel or porous, but demanded that the new cross-over we have to build be concrete,,hmmm. Fortunately, we were able to get around this ridiculous conundrum by telling council that we would retain the existing gravel driveway that is currently on the property. You see, you don't need a planning permit for a driveway unless you are obtaining planning for a whole new development - that means once you have your certificate of occupancy, you don't need a permit to build a driveway - that must be how all our neighbours were able to pave their driveways!!
After all that heartache, contemplating selling the block and throwing it all in, 6 months later we were notified that we actually didn't need planning permission and council refunded us our application fee - you heard right!
There's our council war story, I hope your battle scars are few and far between.
Thanks for stopping by