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DA's vs. CDC's for Commercial Interior Construction?
17 November 2015

Do I Need a Development Application? Understanding the Requirements

When it comes to questions about fit outs and commercial interior construction work, the experts at QVS have heard it all. In terms of frequency, queries about Development Application requirements are second only to questions about how much fit outs or other construction works will cost. There seems to be a great deal of confusion surrounding the process, particularly about specific DA requirements. Since moving forward without the proper local council approval can have disastrous (and extremely costly) consequences, we spend a great deal of time with our clients making sure that they understand exactly how much and what kind of red tape they will need to cut through. Armed with expert advice and assistance from our team of experienced professionals, our clients can move through the application process with confidence.

As we go over the ins and outs of this process with out clients, we find that many of them assume that a Development Application is required for all non-exempt commercial interior construction development projects. They are often surprised to learn that there is a fast-track-option—one every bit as official as a Development Application. Complying Development Certificates (CDC), while they don’t cover as much ground as Development Applications, allow builders to pivot from the application process to construction much faster than Development Applications. As a combined planning and construction approval, they represent an underexplored avenue for those seeking rapid approval. To clear away some of the confusion (particularly the difference between the DA and the CDC), let’s take a closer look at each.

The Development Application: The Big Tent

A Development Application (DA) is the application made to your local council when you are seeking consent to carry out a specific development. The process comes with its fair share of costs, and, depending on the scope of development plans, approval can take anywhere from weeks to months. The red tape might be burdensome for would-be developers, but the rationale behind it is airtight: the DA represents a barrier standing between developers and Sydney’s unique environment. Anything that is classified as development must submit a DA. The Environmental Planning and Assessment Act of 1979 (the guiding document for Local Council when it comes to these matters) defines development as:

  • Using land

  • Subdividing land

  • Erecting a building

  • Carrying out work

  • Pruning or removing trees

  • Demolition

  • Any other matter controlled by an environmental planning instrument

This casts an extremely wide net. “Using land” and “carrying out work” are vague enough to convince many of those in the early planning stages that they need a Development Application to proceed. This is not necessarily the case. Before we turn to the kinds of development that can merge into the CDC fast lane, it’s important to understand where there is wiggle room and where there isn’t. In the following cases, a DA will almost always be necessary:

  1. When there is a major change of building use

    • This refers to when a development will change the way that the Building Code of Australia classifies the building. Certain (more minor) changes of building use are covered by a CDC or can even be exempt, so it is a good idea to talk to a planning expert if your development includes a change of building use.

  2. Land is within Zone E4 – Environmental Living

    • This is when the land in question is located in an area prized for its scenic or environmental value and is therefore subject to a number of development limitations.

  3. The building is heritage listed

    • Development that might be covered by a CDC in a non-heritage listed building almost certainly requires a DA when the building is historically significant. Unless you can classify the works as maintenance or repair, the city’s ongoing attempt to conserve heritage buildings and landmarks means that Local Council will want to scrutinise every aspect of your application.

    • Some buildings are heritage listed on the outside only, which means that you might be able to get away with a CDC for internal works, but you’ll need a letter from a heritage architect to do so.

  4. The proposal doesn’t comply with State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPPs)

    • Based on recommendations from the Minister for Planning, SEPPs are wide-reaching development guidelines. If your development steps outside of these lines, you’ll need to seek approval from Local Council.

The Complying Development Certificates: The Fast-Track Option

Complying Development Certificates are a timesaving option for those undertaking relatively minor development (this would include office and shop fit outs). While DA requirements vary between local councils (each has its own set of region-specific criteria) CDC requirements are the same statewide, and, if you meet these clear and broad criteria, you could be looking at approval in less than two weeks. Besides the saved time, a CDC can also mean substantially less paperwork. If you don’t fall under any of the categories listed above, a CDC might cover your fitout or commercial interior construction plans. Before moving ahead with a CDC, though, it is best to talk to somebody experienced with the ins and outs of Local Council requirements.

Experience and Expertise Means You Can Trust QVS

With decades of experience and a team of respected industry professionals, QVS has long been the building partner of choice for Sydney’s developers that want to undertake commercial interior construction. Whether it is office fit outs, shopfitting or commercial building, QVS can work with you to make sure that your vision is realised as quickly and efficiently as possible. Remember, the decision surrounding your development application need to be finalised in the early stages of planning, and this is precisely when QVS’s expert staff can be of the most assistance. We’ll work in conjunction with your local council, reputable certifiers, and (if necessary) heritage architects to ensure that your plans are rubber stamped without delay.