Many Australians are tackling major renovations and building projects as the pandemic has caused us all to reassess what we want in a home. But, before you can roll up your sleeves and get stuck in, you need to have all the right permits in place.

One of the most important is the planning permit.

What’s a planning permit?

A planning permit is a legal document that gives permission for a piece of land to be used or developed for a particular purpose.

Under the Planning and Environment Act 1987, local councils regulate the use and development of land in Victoria. So they want to make sure your building plans don’t negatively impact the surrounding environment and that your land is being used appropriately.

A planning permit is not a building permit, as it focuses on the planning stage rather than the construction of your building or development.

Some projects require both a planning permit and a building permit, while others don’t. If your project does require both you must have your planning permit in place before a building permit is issued.

Do you need a planning permit?

Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer as planning regulations differ from council to council. But, in most cases, you’ll need approval if you want to:

  • Build something new
  • Make a major change or demolish a building
  • Change the use of a building
  • Subdivide land
  • Clear native vegetation
  • Display a sign

To further complicate matters, it also depends on the restrictions that may be tied to your title deeds and land such as building envelopes, small-lot housing codes and the council’s local planning scheme.

As such, it’s always a good idea to do your research to find out what planning rules apply to your land before you develop any plans.

How do you get a planning permit?

Now comes the fun part. To get a planning permit you need to apply at your local council. You’ll need to fill out a form and submit supporting documents including your proposed plans for the site and a copy of the title.

The council then checks your application and, if necessary, makes any referrals to external parties such as water boards. If required, your application is then advertised for 14 days so your neighbours and other interested parties are aware of your plans.

If they raise objections, these are then considered when the council assesses your application against their planning scheme.

If all goes well, the council will green-light your plans and issue a planning permit. Planning permits usually come with conditions of approval as well as an expiry date.

How long does the process take?

Planning approval can take a surprisingly long time to come through, as the process can be quite complex. On top of that, it depends on:

  • How efficient the council is
  • How many applications a council is currently processing
  • If any objections were raised to your plans
  • If they are any restrictions or covenants on your site

The Victoria government planning website has a Planning Permit Activity Monthly Report which gives you an indication of current timeframes and approval rates.

How much does a planning permit cost?

A planning permit’s cost is directly related to your project’s cost. So the more you want to spend, the higher your application fee.

Most local councils in Victoria use the same sliding scale. Application fees start at $199.90 for a development costing less than $10,000 and go up to $57,670.10.

Freya Southwell is the lead property lawyer at Sutton Laurence King Lawyers.

Local planning regulations can be a labyrinth to unravel. Avoid any pitfalls that may stand in your way by getting the right legal advice from the start. Call Sutton Laurence King on 03 9070 9810 or fill out this online form.