Ever heard of The 5 Ps… Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance? When it comes to renovating or building your property, never have truer words been spoken. Working out the council approval process for any type of project can seem daunting, but with the right amount of research and planning, you’ll be right on track to move forward with clarity. 

Recent data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that council approvals for new house builds and renovations have surged by 40 per cent since June 2020, hitting an all time high. More than 82,000 Aussies have taken up grants off the back of the government’s HomeBuilder scheme, resulting in many homeowners jumping headfirst into the renovation process without really knowing what to expect.

So let’s address your burning questions…’Where do I start?’, ‘Which type of development is my project?, ‘Do I need council approval for my landscaping?’

Let’s start with the good news, not all landscaping projects require council approval. Some works that are considered minor, such as building a small retaining wall (under 600mm) or the construction of a deck under 25m2, are typically exempt from the councils eagle eyes. On the flip side however, is that there are a number of variables within each Australian state hosting a bunch of different regulations and exceptions to the rules, such as heritage listed properties, conservation areas or bush fire zones. 

So why is all of this relevant to my landscaping project you might ask? Well to put it simply, you are at risk of receiving a notice from council to remove or demolish a structure that you install if you don’t have the relevant approvals. Identifying what category of ‘approvals’ your renovation falls into will determine your next move, help you save time and most importantly avoid costly mistakes.

We get it. Renovating or building a property can be daunting, but don’t worry, our simple guide to council approval for your landscaping project should help you through.

What is Exempt Development

Garden planting in wollongong

This is your ‘entrée’ equivalent of a project and applies to minor works (such as garden edging or a small deck) and the installation of softscapes (plants, soil, mulch and turf). This type of work can be completed WITHOUT council approval. You must be sure that what you want to do falls within the official planning guidelines for your state so it’s best to check your local environmental planning policy by going to your local councils website and looking at the ‘Development’ section or giving them a call. 

Exempt Development may include: 

  • A small deck (under 25m2)
  • Retaining walls (under 600mm)
  • New plants or turf

What is a Complying Development Certificate (CDC)?

Pool paving wollongong landscape construction

This is like ordering a ‘main course’. It’s required for projects that have a low impact on the community and comply with your local councils rules (which you’ll find on their website). It’s typically bigger than Exempt Development but definitely smaller than a Development Application (DA). Luckily a CDC is much quicker to get council approval than a DA – usually around a couple of weeks. Another great thing about a CDC is that it is a complete approval which means that you don’t have to apply for a Construction Certificate before you start. A CDC can be provided by your local council or a Private Certifying Authority (PCA).  

Complying Development may include: 

  • A deck over 25m2
  • Retaining walls over 600mm
  • A swimming pool
  • Removal of a tree

What is a Development Application (DA)?

Retaining walls wollongong landscape construction

This is like ordering the most comprehensive degustation menu (think an ‘ 8 course chefs menu’). It’s required when you are making significant structural changes to your property or when you want to do work outside of the CDC guidelines. A DA takes time – typically anywhere between 3-12 months, depending on the complexity of the application and the number of DA’s that your council is dealing with when you submit your application. Once you have your DA council approval, you still have to apply for a Construction Certificate (CC). This ensures the works are compliant with the approved DA and any specific conditions that were put on the DA (like protecting certain tree’s). A CC can be provided by your local council or a Private Certifying Authority (PCA).

A Development Application is required for: 

  • Any work that’s outside CDC guidelines

Which approval do I need?

The best way to work out which council approval you need for your landscape project is to jump onto your local councils website and look at the ‘Development’ section. EVERY council approval process is different so make sure you check by picking up the phone paying them visit in person. They are surprisingly helpful and can quickly point you in the right direction.

You can also ask your landscape designer or landscaper which council approvals you need. Remember however, it is YOUR responsibility to gain the right approvals AND it’s not always as clear cut as you think.

To save you time and a lot of paperwork, you can also engage a private certifier to look after the council approval process for you. There will be a fee, but quite often this is money very well spent. 

For example, a deck…..

  1. may be “exempt’ if it’s under 25m2
  2. may require a CDC if it’s over 25m2
  3. may require a DA if your house is heritage listed or in a bush fire zone

Our Top Tip:

If in ANY doubt, check with council. You need council approval for more things than you think. If you want to replace an existing 1m high retaining wall on your boundary that’s failing, you WILL need approval!!