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Town Planning

Town Planning – Residential

When is Town Planning required for my project?

Town Planning is required for a number of reasons when you set-out to extend or renovate your home.

Town Planning Scheme –

Most local government authorities have a planning scheme for their jurisdiction. The Town Planning scheme is a map of all properties in the locality and is designed to regulate the use of land and the development of that land.

The scheme is divided up into areas to govern the type of property for a particular area.

  • Industrial
  • Rural
  • Residential
  • Commercial
  • Parks & Gardens etc.
Town Planning Scheme
Town Planning Scheme

These areas are known as “planning zones” so for your home it is most likely zoned residential. And the idea is to prevent other types of construction being built in that locality. For instance if your neighbourhood is zoned “Residential” it is unlikely that a factory will be built next door to you as that type of construction would not be permitted in a residential area.

Town Planning Overlays

Town Planning Overlays are influences on land that need to be considered when developing a property. For instance, a “Bushfire” overlay means that a development must be designed to meet a bushfire hazard identified on that property. It is your Design Professionals responsibility to investigate the influences on a development and ensure that the design documentation meets all of the requirements of the overlay.

Brisbane Town Planning Overlay
Town Planning Overlay

Some overlays are –

  • Bushfire hazards
  • Flooding potential
  • Noise Corridor
  • Heritage
  • Protected species habitats
  • Protected vegetation
  • Airport environs etc

In most cases, development on these areas will trigger an application for approval under the Town Planning Scheme.

Other Planning Triggers

Other Acts and Regulations enacted by parliament are enforced under the Local Authorities Planning Departments. For instance, most municipalities are governed by a “Development Code” which cover a multitude of development considerations but the most common one that influences residential properties is boundary setbacks. It is most likely that your home is setback a certain distance from the front, side and rear boundaries in order to comply with the “Development Code” and this varies depending on the size of your allotment, covenants, by-laws etc.

Bushfire Overlay
Bushfire Overlay

As families grow, the confines of the residence have an effect on the needs of occupants. For instance a family of 3 becomes a family of 5 and the garage gets turned into a rumpus room, a bedroom is built out the back and a carport is built in the front of where the garage use to be. And this new carport is an encroachment on the front boundary setback which triggers a siting relaxation by the Planning Department.

Town Planning Applications

What happens when you find yourself in a position where a Town Planning Application is required?

Your “Design Professional” usually will engage the services of a “Town Planner” or may make the application themselves depending on their experience with the type of development requiring an application. In either case, the consultant will put together a proposal addressing the issues associated with the impact on the code, overlay or scheme and make a case that there will be little or no adverse effect to the area or the neighbourhood.

Development Approvals

The Planning Department, if it considers the application to be reasonable, will issue an approval to proceed to Building Certification, usually with a list of conditions associated with the approval. Your “Design Professional” will then incorporate all of the conditions into the design so that it is developed in accordance with the “Local Authorities” conditions.

What does this mean to me?

Ok so now you have your approval to proceed to “Building Certification” apart from making sure that all of the conditions are incorporated into the documentation there is nothing else to do. However sometimes the conditions can impose additional construction requirements which will increase the cost of construction and should be investigated before proceeding. I have seen developments take a different course once all of the conditions are handed down and in some rare cases require further submissions or have ceased altogether. But this is very rare and in all cases I have dealt with as far as Town Planning applications for residences, there has been little or no effect on the development.

So apart from the Town Planning Application cost and time to complete you should be good to go. Engage the right people to do the work and everything will be fine. I highly recommend that you don’t try and make the application yourself as some that have tried, have failed.

And my final thought on this is to allow time for this process to happen. Many people get frustrated in the time it takes to get approvals. It can take weeks or months to receive an approval and you should be prepared for that. Your “Design Professional” can not do much with the documentation until they receive an approval as the conditions of the approval can influence the documentation considerably.

I hope this information helps in your understanding of the process. My disclaimer is that I am not a Town Planner and the information I have presented here is not exhaustive by any means. There is a lot involved with Town Planning and this was only intended to give you, as a home owner, some insight into what it is all about. Speak with your “Design Professional” or “Town Planner” to get a better understanding of what will be required for your project.

Builders reviewing plans

When do I need a building permit?

This is a guide to deciding if a building permit is needed.

What is a building permit for?

Building permits are all about ensuring the safety, health and structural stability of a building. It is the process by which qualified / licensed people review and approve the construction, alteration, extension or renovation of a building structure.

When is a building permit required?

That is the ultimate question and it depends on where abouts in the world you are. In order to find a concise answer to that question you need to contact your local building authority and ask them if one is required.

Basically any alteration to a structure or construction of a new structure requires a permit. Here is a list of construction works that will require a building permit.

  • New home or commercial or industrial building.
  • Veranda / patio / porch / deck extension
  • Shed / lawn locker (check with council as some exemptions are permitted)
  • Demolition of any kind
  • Retaining walls (generally higher than 1 meter but check first)
  • Removing a structural wall (proof required by qualified person)
  • Replacing / removing a glass door or window. (affects energy efficiency)
  • Installing a roof mounted solar water heater
  • Building an open carport (Some exemptions do apply)

This is not an exhaustive list by any means but it is probably some of the most common questions I get.

Some things that don’t require a permit.

  • Painting inside and outside (changing the colour externally can affect energy efficiency so it’s better to check first)
  • Removing non load bearing walls.
  • Replacing floor coverings like with like.
  • Replacing roof sheeting like with like.
  • pergolas (sometimes do require a permit so check)

How do I know if I need a building permit or not

This is a really difficult question to answer in a general context as it is vastly different all over the world. Here in Australia, answering this question varies from state to state and sometimes from council to council. There is no clear cut explanation and the only thing you can do to protect yourself is to ask a professional.

Don’t just ask your mate because they are not the ones that will be prosecuted if they are wrong, you are! (don’t laugh it happens more often than you would think). Always ask a Building Certifier or your local council and diarise who you talked to, the date and time, and what their response was.

What are the consequences if I go ahead without a permit?

Again this varies depending on which part of the world you are in. It pays to get legal advice on this question.

I can offer you this advice to think about

If you decide to proceed without a building permit and one is required this is what is going to happen.

  1. You will be required to make application for a building permit even though you have already built it.
  2. You will be required to prove that the documentation meet all the acts and regulations applicable to the construction work.
  3. You will be required to show that all of the structural elements used in the construction complies with the codes.
    1. Every footing, column, wall, slab, floor frame, roof frame, etc. is structurally adequate.
    2. Every screw, bolt, framing anchor, stirrup, cleat, strap etc adequately ties down the structure
    3. Every cross brace, sheet brace, steel brace etc resists the wind loading on the structure.
  4. You will be required to prove that the structure does not adversely affect existing structures or neighbouring structures.
  5. And finally you will have to physically show that the structure was built in accordance with the approved documents. That means you may have to dig down to show the footings are correct or take off some roof sheeting to prove the roof frame complies etc.

And you must be a qualified, licensed person to produce this information. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the saying “I built it pretty good so it won’t fall down” or “It looks really strong so it will be ok”. Let me tell you from experience, It’s NOT ok.

Regardless of whether or not you think it is ok you have to prove that it’s ok and you have to be licensed to prove that it’s ok. There are many instances of projects that I have done where it is more economical to demolish the structure and rebuild it with the proper permits in place.

To reverse engineer a building (the process of proving that an existing structure meets the codes) is far more difficult and expensive than engineering it from the ground up. And that means all aspects of the structure not just the structural components.

And the final point on this subject is that a lack of permits will most likely hold up the sale of a property and can even allow a buyer to back out of the deal altogether. Everything goes along fine until you try to sell your property, then for the solicitors only to discover that permits for construction have not been issued. It needs to be rectified before the sale can go ahead. Now you are in a time squeeze because the sale of the property needs to happen in about 30 days or less and the permit documentation can take about 3 months to process.

What do I do if I have already built it?

By now I guess you would have gathered that this is not the ideal case scenario. As I have said, to get a permit for an existing building or structure is far more difficult than building it with permits in place.

So now all you can do is get a professional to have a look at it and advise you what to do. There advise can sometimes be hard to hear but you are just going to have to accept it and take it on the chin. I’m sorry that I can’t give you any better news than that but rest assured that now you are doing the right thing, the professionals you have engaged will give you the best course of action to take. And even though you think that your structure is ok, you will be required to make alterations to bring it up to code.

BBQ lounge

And my final thought on this subject is, give the professionals time to work. Again I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news but the documentation process takes time and your consultant has other clients also that may even be in the same position as you.

If you are caught in the time squeeze I mentioned in the previous subject, then you are going to have to ask the consultants about the timeframes associated with preparing the documents and ask for an extension of time on the contract of sale.

If you are thinking about selling your home but haven’t got a contract yet, I suggest you move fast and get these permits sorted before you have a sale. As I have said, getting permits takes time so don’t leave it until the last minute to take action. You could be bitterly disappointed.

So who do I talk to about getting a permit.

The best place to start is to talk to a Design Professional (Building Designer or Architect). A Design Professional knows what documentation is required for a building permit. They also know what other consultants you are going to need and most likely will have contacts for those consultants. In most cases, your first meeting with a Design Professional is free and you can get an indication of how much it’s going to cost and how long it is going to take.

I have another post about the subject of “How to choose a Design Professional”. To read the article click here.

Design Professionals Tools

Alternatively here are some other professionals you can talk to:

  • Engineer
  • Builder
  • Certifier
  • Council building permits department

So good luck with your building project. I hope I haven’t shattered your plans too much. Just talk to someone who is qualified to answer your questions and don’t leave it too late. The sooner the better.

Affinity Building Design

Architect or Building Designer

What’s the difference


You can type this question into google and see the battle that has been raging on for quite some time and it isn’t specific to Australia. In most countries in the world the decision on who to use is difficult. So I am not going to enter into the debate in this article. Instead I am going to look at it from a different perspective. Let’s look at it from the consumers perspective, that’s you. Quite a novel approach really, I mean who’d have thought that the customer would have an opinion right?

The Design Professional

Let’s start the discussion off by changing the labels so that we can avoid the noise of who is better or who is worse. And just to clear up the confusion there is no difference between them from your perspective because both can get the job done. From your kids cubby house to a multi-story office block both can do it if they have been licenced by the appropriate authorities.

Full disclosure, I am a Building Designer by trade but the direction this article is taking, that bios will be irrelevant.

Like I said, to avoid the noise between the two let’s call them “Design Professionals“! Now we have placed them all under one label, let’s look at what we can do to answer that all important question we want to know the answer to.

Who is the best person to design my home?

Which Design Professional will I choose?

Right now finally we are on the right track and asking the right questions.

The most common response I get when trying to decide is “You get what you pay for”! Meaning the more you pay the better the result. And nothing could be further from the truth. I have seen buildings designed by Design Professionals that have been an absolute disgrace and I have seen buildings designed on a budget price that have won design awards for excellence. Not my opinion, they have been chosen by their peers. So that dispels that myth.

So how do I decide?

Here it is! The number 1 best way to determine who is the best Design Professional for the job is…….

Drum Roll

Look at what work they have already produced!

That’s right it’s that simple. Actively seek out projects they have done is the best way to decide if they are going to be right for you. And nobody can make the decision for you because no one else has your tastes. All Design Professionals have their strengths and their weaknesses and it all becomes apparent in the body of work they produce. Strengths and weaknesses also is misleading because what you see as a strength someone else will see it as a weakness. It’s not that the work is good or bad it is just our own personal opinion. And your Design Professional won’t mind if you say you don’t like their work as long as you can give a reason. We as Design Professionals are not going to please all of the people all of the time (John Lydgate) and that’s ok. The fact that you have ruled someone out makes you one step closer to find the right someone.

What else can I do to help me decide?

We have already covered the single most important thing to do but here are a couple of others worth mentioning.

  1. Check with the design association in your state / province – Most professional “Design Professionals” (doesn’t sound right does it?) most professionals are registered with an industry association that governs their code of ethics. They do this mainly for the networking with other like minded people and to stay abreast of emerging trends. If they belong to an association there’s a good chance they are capable of doing the job.
  2. Talk to owners and occupiers – If you see a house you like, knock on the door and ask them who designed their home. It’s that simple. Most people who have chosen well are happy to talk about their house and show it off to people so don’t be embarrassed to ask. For larger projects like office blocks the occupiers of the premises are not usually the owners but they can point you in the right direction.
  3. Magazines – In most countries in the world, houses and commercial buildings are showcased in industry awards. Some are done by the design association mentioned in item 1, and some are done by magazines mainly to increase their readership but the result is just the same. You get to see buildings that have been judged the best by other peers in the industry. The designers name is usually indicated in the article and in a lot of cases, so is their contact details.
  4. Social Media – Platforms such a Facebook have groups dedicated to architecture and design and can be a good source of information. Get on the platform and get involved with the group. Ask questions and you will get (hopefully) unbiased replys from people with experience.
  5. Friends and Friends of Friends – Social networking is one of the best ways of getting the word around about whether someone is good or bad. Ask your friends if they have used anyone they can recommend or if they know of anyone who has used a design professional. 80% of my income comes from this source, it is a really powerful marketing tool. If I do a good job, my customers tell their friends about it. Whoda thought right? But seriously, apart from checking their body of work, this is the next best way of helping your decision on a Design Professional.

In Closing

Well that’s about all I can say on the subject for now. I will probably come back and add to, or take away as I get comments back from my readers (that’s you) so leave a comment and let me know what you think about the article or if there is anything you can add that will help people in this very important step.

Home Design Brief

For owners and design professionals alike – This tool can help organise your thoughts and cover all the basis when you start designing

The first stage in getting any plans done is to prepare a design brief. Your Architect or Building Designer will typically prepare one before starting to make sure everyone is on the same page. In fact if your Design Professional doesn’t provide one you are quite within your rights to insist on one.

Now a design brief is a fluid document which means through the course of a design the brief might change slightly. The design process is meant to be an exchange of ideas and design options. However if the change is significant enough your Design Professional may ask to adjust their quote based on the changes. And in some cases it may mean a re-writing of the brief. If this does happen then it is better to happen at this stage rather than after they have started laying bricks.

My recommendations to clients when they are starting out is to gather as much information as they can before meeting with the Design Professional. I am including a link to the Design Brief that I use when I am developing a proposal for a client. The reason I am including it is so that you know what type of information the Design Professional is looking for.

To get access to and download this design brief click here

So I always recommend to gather as much information as you can at the start. And they say that a picture is worth a thousand words and it is never more true in this process. Take as many photographs as you can of the things that you like and the things that you don’t like. (make sure you adequately differentiate between the 2 so your Design Professional doesn’t get them mixed up.) Cut out photographs from magazines including appliances, fixtures and fittings (toilets, bathrooms, sinks, vanity basins etc) all of which helps describe your requirements.
Now you are well prepared to contact some Design Professionals, show them your ideas and ask them for a quote.
I hope this has been helpful. If so please give us a thumbs up and don’t forget to tell your friends on facebook about us.

Article by: Mark Sabadina for Affinity Building Design

#architecture #architecturephotography #designinspiration #designer

Christmas Tree Presents

What happened to the construction industry at Christmas?

Or “We’re too busy having fun”

Ok it’s a little bit tongue in cheek but I see the same thing happen every year at Christmas time. Of course the same thing doesn’t happen in other than Christian countries because, well, they don’t celebrate Christmas. So this is a quick post to try and describe what is going to happen coming into the Christmas period and what are your options.

Where did everybody go?

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, those that are in the know, realise that things are going to be harder to get done at Christmas so they get in early. Inevitably, what happens is that all of trades and business associated with the construction industry get extremely busy.

And then starting about a week before Christmas, businesses start closing their doors until the New Year. This has a cascading effect because things don’t get ordered during this time and nothing gets manufactured. The lead times for this sort of thing can take weeks or months which means that if you haven’t got it locked in before businesses start closing their doors then you probably won’t see it until February or March.

Design professionals are inundated with clients who want to start their projects at Christmas and early in the new year. So all of the documentation and approvals are in on time for work to start. Usually what happens is that these professionals start declining work or raising their prices so that they are priced out of the competition, which leaves them able to go on vacation.

Builders, well their usually booked up months to years ahead anyway so you are going to be lucky to find a builder before Christmas. The related trades also will be busy but if you want to get a small job done around the home you might be able to find one that can fit you in between jobs.

What are we going to do?

You have probably realised that since it is getting close to Christmas that you have missed the boat. Which means you can put your plans aside and go on holidays too. Might as well join them right!

But seriously there are some things that you can do now. Not all is lost.

  • If you need a small job done it’s best to start calling around to tradies to see if they can fit you in or recommend someone who can. You can ask your friends if they know of anyone who might be interested. The industry thrives on word of mouth so you never know what you can turn up.
  • Those that need to get plans done should move quickly. I have done another post on “how to select a Design Professional” and you can get some tips to go about doing that. The main point is that a Design Professional should not be selected on the price they charge. I have seen some very bad work done by professionals who charge an exorbitant fee for service and I have seen some outstanding work done be professionals at a reasonable price. Choose your designer by the work that they have produced. Look at what they have done in the past and it is probably a good indication on what they can do for you.
  • Lock in professionals and contractors now. If you have missed the Christmas window for getting things done then lock in whoever you need for as soon as they are available because they are going to be busy for the first few weeks of the new year.
  • Start collecting information to help speed up your project when it does become time to get it done. If your planning a new project then start collecting photos, decide on spaces, colours you like and don’t like, research appliances fittings, coverings, furniture, cabinetry, etc. The more you can gather to describe what you want the better.
  • Start preparing the area for the work. I mean if you want that extension on the back to go ahead quickly, move the garden shed over Christmas if it is in the way. If you want to lay carpet in the bedroom start shifting the furniture now as much as you can. It might even be a good time to give it a paint over Christmas.


There are heaps of things you can do that will help. As we say in the profession, “help us help you.” We want to know what it is you want. Draw sketches, take photos, tear out images from magazines, get some samples, get opinions it all helps. And what you find during this process is that you will get a better understanding of what it is you really want.

Good luck with your project. I hope you have found this information useful. You can leave a comment below if you can think of anything I might be able to add to the post to help people get through the Christmas period.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!