Prelodgement - How developers get early access to Council
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WHAT IS IT ?
A service from Council through which applicants (home owners, developers, businesses etc) can, for a fee, get the advice on their plans from Council’s planning staff before lodging a formal development application.
The opinions of Council’s planning staff goes beyond advising what the site zoning requirements are (height, setback, floor space ratio etc) to a specific design scenario. Council offers this service, as an ‘added extra’ outside the provisions of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH PRELODGMENT
Depends. When development applications have included the ‘pre-lodgment advice provided by Council staff, it can been seen that the more unacceptable aspects of development plans have been mitigated or modified, saving everyone’s time worrying about proposals that are unacceptable.
So it’s not the advisory part by Council staff that’s necessarily the problem, it’s the way the process is run. How is it run? Secretly.
Yes, that’s right, all behind closed doors, for a fee paid to the authority who generally assesses and determines the final development application. The only way adjoining neighbours know of a pre-lodgment session has occurred is if the applicant chooses to disclose this in their development application, usually, this is with the objective that the development application is a ‘done deal’.
DONE DEAL ?
Maybe. Nothing is certain until Council has determined the development application, either consent, which can include modifications to the plans lodged or refusal.
In determining development applications, Council must take into consideration any submissions made, most usually from neighbours on impacts to them, usually concerns such as loss of light and sun, privacy, views as well as concerns about traffic and parking.
But if those lodging development applications have already been advised of what Council’s planning staff consider acceptable, what hope do neighbours have in their submissions? Council say that the staff member who gave the advise is NOT the staff member who assesses and either determines (or provides a determination recommendation) the development application, so independence is maintained.
But how do we know, the prelodgment process is secret. Council staff and the applicant know, but everyone else is unaware of previous, ‘fee for service’ meetings.
WHAT CAN BE DONE
Easy. Council could require all those who use their pre-lodgment service to consent to release details of their original plans and the advise received from Council’s planning staff as part of any development application subsequently lodged. Sure, applicants may need to lodge a short explanation of what changed between the plans subject to pre-lodgment advice and the final plans submitted.
With such disclosure, people interested in development application could at least get some indication of what one planning officer’s views were. They could also ensure that the same planning officer was not involved in the assessment process for the final application.
Has it happened to you?
Have you used Council’s pre-lodgment service and found it helpful? or
Are you aware if development near you used the pre-lodgment service offered by Council?
Send us an email with your thoughts and experiences on Council’s pre-lodgment process.
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