How Councils Assess DA’s

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How do Councils assess development applications in the various zones?

Here at SCM Projects we specialise in getting Council approval and developing real estate as project managers for clients and naturally enough one of the questions I am constantly asked by potential clients is “what can I do with my property”? Questions such as how many units / lots will be approved? Can I subdivide my land? And so it goes. Here I will attempt to explain how Councils assess property development applications.

At SCM we often can give a pretty accurate answer to the questions but sometimes not. People usually expect a definitive answer which is not always possible because the relevant town plan may not include a prescriptive definition which means that a design needs to be formulated that accounts for the various requirements of the Council’s Zone and the type of building proposed and this of course means spending some money. A lot of people baulk at doing that often resulting in missed opportunities.

Regardless of these considerations it’s the local authority that has the final say so what I think or say does not carry any weight. When I give an answer I can only base it on what the ‘Code’ allows and even then if the code does not support their proposal it does not necessarily mean that their proposal will not get up as you will see later in this article.

Getting Council Approval involves more than having the right zoning

Zones are only one of a wide variety of different criteria that Councils use to assess DA’s – here in this article we only deal with one criteria – Zoning and Overlays. There are many others which a lot of people are unaware of. It’s not unusual for people such as Real Estate Agents to place great emphasis on just the zoning, whereas there are potentially many “other issues” that can or will determine the success or otherwise of a project.

Each zone within a town plan has a zone code that has various assessment criteria. This code, along with any number of other codes listed in the table of assessment, will form the assessment criteria for your proposed development.

getting council approval
There can be more than 1 way to get a DA – plan your moves first

Assessable development within the zone needs to meet outcomes in the zone code under the following general headings –

  •  uses and other development
  •  built form and density
  •  amenity
  •  pollution prevention (mainly in industrial zones)
  •  environment
  •  infrastructure
Consistent and Inconsistent uses

Each zone usually contains both a consistent development tableand an ‘inconsistent development table. They list uses and other development which  are either preferred or not preferred in that zone.  If your proposal is consistent with the code it is generally considered to be code assessable’ and will usually have a good chance of being approved. If it’s not consistent the application can still be made however the level of assessment is then called impact assessable.

This signals that the land use is potentially inappropriate and inconsistent within that zone and that Council would not normally approve that form of development unless a sufficiently strong planning argument for approval can be presented by the applicant.

As a much more rigorous assessment of the development application is going to occur, the applicant needs to put up a stronger case to gain approval than would be the case if they complied with the code.

Impact Assessment Applications

Many a Council will charge a higher application fee for this type of application and they will take longer to assess it. What’s more, because a stronger case needs to be put there is usually a need for a much more detailed application which usually requires more expert opinions or specialist reports [e.g. environmental or bushfire] or design and that sometimes results in legal challenges. All of these will result in higher costs, however the rewards of success will often make that additional outlay worthwhile.

It follows that there is a substantially reduced likelihood of success with these inconsistent use applications however it is important not to give up before having your case studied by a town planning or development professional as each case is different and mitigating circumstances may and often do exist.


There are other levels of assessment too, viz: Exempt and Self Assessable which rarely if ever apply to the types of projects we are involved in and as you can see from the table below there are also things known as ‘Overlays’ which also have a level of assessment and which have the potential to trigger a different level of assessment for your development application. Generally if development has a different level of assessment under a zone than under an overlay, the highest level of assessment is applicable.


 Complicating things further are what are known as ‘Overlays’ which frequently affect a property. They are usually independent of zoning and include issues that relate to or specifically affect that particular property.

The purpose of an overlay is to provide additional information about a parcel of land.

Overlays may protect attributes or constrain land use due to environmental hazards or resources, or other things, and may impact on the layout of your proposed development.

Overlays are mapped as are zones and operate in a similar manner, and have the same planning weight, as zones in development assessment. More than one overlay may affect a property.

Overlays do not necessarily follow property boundaries and do not always have to cover the entire property to trigger assessment.

Council approval
Typical Council zoning and overlays table

For example, Flooding is an issue that is covered by overlays and it’s entirely possible that two adjoining properties could be identical in many respects including zoning and size but one is severely flood affected which may preclude further development whilst the other is not and may be developed. The overlays may be graded to indicate severity as is often the case with flooding or other issues such as noise, bush fire and environmental value. Other overlays could relate to Traditional Housing or Development control precincts.

When making a development application one needs to address these overlays in your development application and show how your proposal overcomes the issues raised by that overlay. For example a project in a noise corridor may be required to install double glazed windows.

Specific Outcomes – Probable Solutions.

If the development is code or impact assessable, you will need to demonstrate that the proposal complies with the overlay codes. One way to comply with the overlay code(s) is to comply with the ‘Probable Solutions’ identified in the code(s). These ‘Probable Solutions’ are designed to achieve what is described as a ‘Specific Outcome’. If the development does not comply with the Probable Solution, you will need to demonstrate that it complies with the Specific Outcome in an alternative way.


Note in that list above we mentioned Infrastructure.  We’re not going to discuss that here however it should not be dismissed and is an extremely important aspect of any property development consideration that has the potential to make or break any property development project. We cover that elswhere.

We’re here to help

Whilst all this may sound overly complicated and daunting to those of you not involved in the property development industry on a day to day basis, it is par for the course for us. Yes, in truth, it can be quite complicated and can provide traps for the novice and this is why it pays to fully discuss your plans and aspirations with your property development professional at the outset and then tailor your plans accordingly. So often we see development proposals held up or quashed through poor or inadequate planning at the beginning and this always ends up causing delays and additional costs.

If you are interested to move forward with your project please feel free to give us a call on [07] 33697779.