What is a Town Planner?

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“A lot of people ask us when we talk about their renovation, should they go and see a town planner? So what does a town planner do?”

“Look I see a town planner as a necessary evil in the development and house renovation game. People do not often think of a town planner immediately when it comes to doing a renovation or development project – they might go to an architect first or a building designer, a builder or even a certifier. They don’t often think of a town planner, but effectively the role of a town planner is to gain the local statutory approvals on someone’s behalf. So if you’re renovating a house you’ll always need a building approval but you don’t always need a development approval through council.  If one of those is required that is triggered under a local planning scheme that is when I’m involved, and I am able to obtain the DA before they get a building approval, before they can start construction. We work on projects from houses to high rises to shopping centers… It’s a huge area and a wide scope; we have to be knowledgeable about all the different legislative requirements because there’s a lot of different council areas. The planning schemes are relatively similar in the way they are structured so we can work through them and advise people whether they need a development approval or not.”

“Who do Town planners work with?”

“We work with building designers, architects, builders, certifiers and developers to gain the statutory approval that allows them to get a building approval and start construction.”

If somebody is just starting out planning a renovation, what sort of property checks would they need to do?”

“Look I think first and foremost is know your lot-

  1. Check and see whether there are easements in place first, and then check where services run.
  2. Sewer and stormwater– If you have a sewer running through the middle of your property or your sites sloping away from the street where does your storm water connect? They are probably the first two that I would do.”

“Regarding easement, if you were doing an extension for example, what kind of things would you have to look at first?”

“With an easement, it always has terms associated with it that allow you to do certain things within it. So an easement term might be that it’s for access purposes, and it needs to give access to a property behind you; so you can’t then build over that easement and stop someone having access rights to or through it. It might be a stormwater or sewer pipe that has an easement that says you can only have that as a grassed area; you then can’t go and put your garden shed on top of it- so that’s why it is always good to understand that yes you might have a block that’s a certain size, but if it’s encumbered by an easement you’ll actually have an area you can’t build on, so it limits you in terms of what you can do with that area. Most easement will have a clause in there that says unless otherwise agreed to, in writing from someone- so for instance you might be able to- if it is for overlay flow or underground drainage- to cantilever a deck over it with the consent of a local government. That’s why it good to understand the type of constraints within your site, otherwise you get down the path (we’ve seen it before), where someone’s built a garden shed on an easement and they go to sell their property and it causes lots of problems because it’s sitting on an easement and they weren’t aware of it. That’s why I say that’s the first one you can do yourself relatively comfortably.”

“Where would you go to do those checks?”

“So most local councils now throughout Queensland especially will have a mapping system online which allows you to check it, and it will show you where easements run. It does have a cost element, but you can get a search of that easement and obtain the terms of it.”

“That’s a good tick then-check your easements before getting started on your renovation.”

What would be the other one?”

“Then it’s probably going into the actual town planning element of it; so I’m talking from a town planner’s point of view. If you a building certifier you will probably have other checks, but as a town planner I would look for zones first; are you in a residential zone that allows you to do what you want it to do? For instance, here in Brisbane there are lot of different residential zones. If you are within certain zones that are character-related, you have to build structures that are more reflective of Queenslander designs.”

“Do they look at colour?”

“Not so much colour. Now there has been situations in the past where people have painted character home different colours for different reasons- but generally, you can. We always say this to clients as well- in terms of you planning approval- the more you put on the drawings the more scope you create for council to approve. Sometimes it cannot be avoided, that is where a good town planner will tell you what needs to be on it and what does not- in terms of being compliant with a planning scheme.  If the planning scheme is asking you about putting a certain type of balustrade on, or a certain type of roof form or roof material, then that is all you put on the drawing- you do not need to put on any more than that. Your building approval stage is where you get into detail. The planning approval process is showing you what you need to get your planning approval through. It is always worth understanding it zoning-wise, because that will dictate if the extension of the building needs to be designed in a certain way. On top of that are the different layers of the planning scheme which you have also got to check – and that includes neighborhood plans and overlays.

  1. You also need to check the overlays because they can override the provisions of the zones. The zones might say you can build an extension on your property, but there might be a flood overlay in the backyard that says that your house needs to be raised up one and half meters. That is important as it can happen to any site. Even if you are outside of the inner core area where there are Queenslander homes located, you can still have flood overlays as well as vegetation overlays. All these can govern whether your extension can go through and determine what you want.”

Strategy up front is the number one thing to the planning process so if you get your strategy right and your get the right advice from the start you generally find you’re not having too many issues towards the end. Its all in your planning- if you remain you will rarely get any rude shocks at that back end of the process.”

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