On 12 December 2008 the NSW Government introduced the first stage of the State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) 2008 (SEPP). The main intention of the Code is to streamline the previously inconsistent development assessment processes across the State. NSW has 152 council areas and prior to the new Housing Code each council had their own policy in relation to criteria and assessment of development and building works.

Such significant differences between the councils can prove to be quite confusing, and not to mention time consuming, for both builders and homeowners. The introduction of the Code is the first step towards unifying building regulations across the State as well as significantly reducing approval times for exempt and complying building applications.

The details and changes contained in the new NSW Housing Code policy came into effect on 27 February 2009. From that date forward builders and those applying for development approval, whose plans meet the complying development criteria can expect to have their plans approved and have a Complying Development Certificate issued by the council or an accredited private certifier in approximately 10 days. This is a notable change from the usual waiting times for council approval that were previously around 120 days, or even up to 254 days!

Not only does this allow for development work to commence sooner (and be completed sooner) but it will also free up a lot of precious council time, allowing them to focus their efforts on larger and more significant applications that are so important the local community that they support.

Under the Code, more detached single dwellings (one and two storey), home extensions, alterations and other ancillary development (e.g. swimming pools) on lots greater than 450sqm are now usually able to proceed as complying development following the issue of a Complying Development Certificate by the relevant council or accredited private certifier.

Conditions that are considered in order to determine whether a proposed development is compliant include specifications in relation to the minimum width of the lot, maximum site coverage ratios and minimum front, street and side setback distances. Other criteria such as neighbours and privacy, car parking and landscaping also apply.

It is important to be aware that if the development proposal does not meet all of the Code’s relevant criteria, then the builder or homeowner must then still submit a development application (DA) to the relevant council to for individual ‘merit-based’ assessment.

In addition to that, under the new Code, approximately 40 types of minor developments have been identified as being able to proceed without the requirement for formal approval, provided that the various limits/criteria are satisfied for the specific type of work that is being carried out. Minor developments that are considered exempt under the Code include: garden sheds, pergolas, fixed barbeques, carports, balconies, decks and verandahs.
The Code also outlines that there some areas of the State that are deemed excluded from the controls of the Code as well as areas where complying development is simply not permissible such as flood or bushfire prone land and land or buildings that are dedicated to heritage protection. Local councils can make an application to the Planning Minister for a local exclusion or local variation to the SEPP. So, if you are looking to submit an application for development you should not only check that you are complying with the criteria of the Code but also considering any local amendments that may apply to your area.

Building a new house or making major renovations can be a very rewarding experience, both emotionally and financially, and the newly introduced Code should help to simplify the approval process and get the ball rolling a lot quicker for many homeowners and developers. The important thing to remember is that you are investing a lot of time and money into this venture and if you do not ensure that your building is compliant or do not have the relevant approval or certification it can soon turn your development dreams into a nightmare.

You should have a lawyer look over your contract to identify any potential problems. That way everything can be sorted out before it is too late. If you are building a new home or looking to make some renovations and would like more information on how the new Housing Code may affect you, contact the team of lawyers at The Quinn Group on 1300 QUINNS or click here to submit an online enquiry.