Yes, you are reading right. 50 Shades of Town Planning Grey!

When it comes to town planning and planning regulations, sadly there are a lot of rules and guidelines which have many grey areas. 

There are no strict laws or rules so to speak. Even if you follow all the regulations and guidelines to the T, there is no guarantee you will actually receive town planning approval. 

This is one of the reasons why I would always recommend trying to avoid town planning if possible. If you want to know more about this and how to potentially get around town planning, please have a read through this blog post series.

Click on above image for link to blog post

However, in some instances there is no way around getting a planning permit. 

Like I mentioned before, planning has a lot of guidelines and regulations regarding issues such as site coverage and permeability. Meaning how much area of your land can be built upon verses how much garden or recreational areas you must have.

Planning also has regulations regarding your setbacks from the boundaries and the road. It tells you how tall your building can be, or how much wall on boundary you can have or how many storeys you can build to. Or how wide your private open space needs to be. 

The planning and building regulations also determine the size requirements of your garage or driveway. It also regulates overlooking and overshadowing, or rather makes sure you are not overshadowing your neighbouring site. 

However, there are a lot of regulations that aren’t black or white, but rather grey. That are open for interpretation. And depending on the actual council planner allocated to your project it might swing one or the other way. 

This is often the case when it comes to neighbourhood character. The planning regulation might state that the design of a new home or extension needs to be sympathetic to the existing neighbourhood character. However, one planner might be supportive of your modern looking home or your colour palette and another might not. It is a bit like a lucky draw. 

Similarly, even if you comply with all regulations in terms of site coverage, setbacks, garden area, parking and private open space, the planner might still consider you project an overdevelopment for the site.  For instance, if you want to build 3 units on your site, but council rather wants to see only 2 townhouses. Even though there is no law that states you are only allowed to build 2 homes, council might force you to do so.

Obviously, if you are not happy with council’s decision you can take your project to VCAT. But that involves bigger time delays and is expensive. So often people just give in and amend their design and cut back on their home or development. 

Another big issue is articulation. This might be my least favourite word of all… What could this have to do with my design? You might wonder. Well, council usually does not like really simple designs, or upper storey walls sitting on top of ground floor walls. Council deems ‘sheer’ walls often unacceptable. They want to see first floor walls ideally set back significantly from ground floor walls. As they don’t like the dominant look of those sheer tall walls. Yet, especially if you are aiming to build an energy efficient and affordable home, building walls on top of each other is fairly important.

Just think about the typical unit developments that are popping up everywhere, often referred to as wedding -cake-style. Where the upper walls step in. This causes 2 issues. Firstly, if the upper storey walls are not supported by walls below, you will require steel posts and beams to support the structure, which can add a significant amount to your build cost. But also, you are creating more external area, (a larger Area to Volume ratio) Meaning more external surface for potential air leakage and unwanted heat gain or loss, you also have to add an additional roof including gutters and all, leading to more construction materials. 

In summary, if you have to lodge town planning for your house or development be prepared for a bumpy ride and potentially some disappointment throughout the process.

Not only can the process take quite a long time [this is a subject for another blog post] but council may also request quite a few design changes.