Neighbour consultation could become compulsory part of renovations

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Potential changes to New South Wales’ planning laws aimed at reducing conflict over development applications (DA) have been backed by a leading voice in the renovation industry.

According to a report in Fairfax media outlets last week, NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes is considering changes to planning laws in the state that would require renovators and developers to consult their neighbours before lodging a DA.

Details of that consultation would also be required to be included in the DA.

Stokes told Fairfax media that the change is designed to reduce the “surprise” and “hostility” that can be part of the DA process.

"We want to remove the element of surprise from planning. That's when people get upset. When something happens that they weren't expecting,” Stokes said.

"Wouldn't it be a better system if we tried to work out as much of this before we got the council involved?" he said.

While it is not legislation yet, the idea has the support of renovating expert and founder of the Renovating for Profit courses Cherie Barber.

“I think that would be a great thing. I actually do that already with my own projects and I think it would be a really positive move,” Barber said.

“A lot of the time people just assume that you’re going to be building some huge monstrosity, but when you actually sit down with them and go through the details with them you’ll find the hostility reduces as they get a better understanding,” she said.

Barber said she has recent first-hand experience of the benefits of consulting with neighbours first and said it’s something that is can save applicants time and money.

“One of my projects was a property that has gun-barrel views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and my neighbour was concerned about his views being impacted. Originally he wanted be to bring the property in by 1.5 metres but we compromised and I bought it in 750mm,” Barber said.

“I then submitted the DA and it went through with no objections. I know that I had not consulted with my neighbours I would’ve got more than four objections and when you get more than four objections it has to go to a completely different department in the council and it has to go to a building awards meeting.

“That process will usually delay the project by two or three months… The other thing is if you do have to amend your plans you have to go back to your architect and get drawings re-done and sometimes redesign structural plans, so if you consult with your neighbours beforehand you can easily save yourself a lot of time and money.”

Barber said the majority of people that go through her courses are focussed on cosmetic renovations which likely don’t require a DA, but she still encourages them to consult with their neighbours to keep any disputes to a minimum.

While she would welcome the neighbour consultation requirement, Barber said planning laws in NSW are generally working well.

I think NSW is one of the most reasonable states in the country in terms of planning laws. In Queensland for example you can’t do a cosmetic renovation without a licensed builder, whereas the laws in NSW are quite flexible.

“That’s one of reason I teach a lot of people to stick with cosmetic renovations, because the bulk of that work in NSW is exempt and you don’t need approval. Once you go beyond that, that’s when you need approval and things like structural engineers and all of that starts to add a lot to the cost of the project.”
 

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