May 30, 2014

How do you achieve the best outcomes from the Town Planning Approval process?

At a time when Brisbane’s Apartment market continues to strengthen, and DA approval time and certainty is increasingly critical to a project’s speed to market, we have taken the time to outline which strategies we have found to deliver the most satisfactory commercial outcomes for our clients.

Over the last 18 months, we are aware that developers have experienced a range of outcomes and assessment times from their Planning Approval applications.

In this article, we look at 2 particularly successful apartment Development Applications, and outline the factors we believe have been common in achieving fast and commercially satisfactory Planning Approvals.

Case Study 1: South Brisbane’s Tallest Apartment Tower – approved in 5 months

Application overview for 35 Merivale St:

  • Code Assessable application of 30 stories for the Backshall Group
  • Yield of 239 apartments and 243 onsite carparking spaces
  • 2.5 levels of basement parking & 3 levels of sleeved podium parking
  • Lodged 16/10/2013 ; Approved  25/03/2014
  • Town Planning team led by Cardno HRP
  • 3 Council RFI’s, & Further Issues notices received
  • Average RFI response time by Consultant team 10 days
  • Prelodgement meeting held, and design presentation made to the assessment team
  • Planning issues included: external treatment and activation of podium; streetscape activation, and tower setback
  • The façade design was undertaken in collaboration with Urban Art’s Projects and provided an opportunity for the podium to be treated as Urban Art responding to its surrounding context, and activating the public realm.

Merivale Street

Render of the façade at 35 Merivale Street

Case Study 2: Lumira Apartments Newstead – Approved in 4 months

Application overview for 16 Masters St:

Code Assessable Application of 8 stories for private development group

  • Yield of 70 apartments and 84 onsite carparking spaces
  • Lodged 18.11.13; Approved 25.03.14
  • Town Planning team led by Wolter Consulting
  • Single council RFI, team response time = 20 working days
  • Prelodgement meeting held, and design presentation made to assessment team
  • Planning issues included: front and side setbacks; activation at street level and landscaping


Lumira Apartments, Newstead

Findings and recommendations:

 1. A good consultant team will speed the assessment process 

Developers require a commercially-viable DA supported by council so that their project can proceed into sales and construction. This process often requires the consultant team to consider apparently-conflicting requirements from stakeholders, and being able to resolve this in a fast and commercially-acceptable way. A high level of professional experience and goodwill between the consultant team members will assist this process, and the experience of the Town Planning consultant is critical. Consultant team selection is especially critical when a timely coordinated response requires input from all team members.

 2. A Council’s Pre-lodgement team is not the DA Assessment team
We have found that most complex planning applications benefit from a pre-lodgement meeting to clarify council’s design and engineering concerns, but also to present the design team’s approach to compliance or alternative design solutions. While Pre-Lodgement minutes are helpful, it’s important to understand that the Council Assessment Team will contain many members who are unfamiliar with the project and its history. We have found that a Design Presentation to the DA assessment team helps to communicate how the design and engineering issues that were raised at the pre-lodge have been considered and addressed, and to allow opportunities for further dialogue between the design and assessment teams prior to the assessment process commencing.

3. 3D Site Context models are excellent communication tools
While the Town Plan outlines overall planning outcomes and acceptable solutions, there will always be compelling site-specific reasons why alternative solutions should be considered to achieve similar quality outcomes. We often prepare 3D digital site context models that places the development in context with surrounding buildings or potential developments, to better communicate how the building will sit within the urban framework. This visual context model supports the Planning Application, and is an excellent way to communicate design outcomes to the assessment team.

130143_27 Commercial Road - Context Views - 3D View - CONTEXT PERSPECTIVE - FUTURE DEVELOPMENT

3D Site Context Model of Comercial Road, Newstead, showing existing urban framework

4. Councils support good Urban Design Outcomes
While the planning assessment process is not always smooth, we have found that assessment officers are receptive to design initiatives that enhance and improve the public realm. Often this can improve project viability by increasing the project’s desirability to purchasers, and increase the average sale price & rate of sale, although total yield may be reduced. A good consultant team will design to enhance public amenity while adding value to the development at minimal cost.

5. Good communication with the DA assessment team is critical
We have found that communications with the assessment team’s designated officer are best carried out by the team’s designated Town Planning Consultant, and that it is helpful to outline the Client’s anticipated assessment programme early.  As the consultant team and the assessment team often contain specialists in their fields, possible miss-communications regarding timing responses or specialist reports are reduced when there is a clear line of communication between the parties.

Update on the New Town Plan:

The most recent advice from our Planning colleagues is that 1 July 2014 is likely to be the date that Brisbane’s New Town Plan will become operational.   Accordingly, many developers are considering whether to lodge under the existing Town Plan, or wait for the New Town Plan later in the year. We recommend obtaining timing advice from your Town Planning Consultant, as there will also be a 12 month period where applications can be made under the current (soon to be superseded) Town Plan.

This article was written by Scott Whiteoak, Director at Ellivo Architects, Matt Martoo (Architect on Merivale Street), and John Campbell (Architect on Masters Street).