Guide to Council Approval and DA/CDC for Sydney, NSW

What is a DA?

A DA or development application is a formal request to undertake development. If you’re planning to renovate or remodel your home, you may need to submit a development application to your local council and await approval before you begin any work.

The development application allows the council to determine whether your project will adhere to local and state building requirements, consider its environmental impact and ensure that it won’t be a nuisance to immediate neighbours or other nearby properties.

Do you need council approval?

Although not all development projects will require council approval, there may sometimes be projects that you wouldn’t expect to need approval for, such as pruning or removing trees, which do require council approval.

There may also be certain development constraints that apply to your home or the land surrounding it that wouldn’t necessarily apply to other properties.

So how do you know when you should lodge a DA?

In general, most minor development projects won’t need approval beforehand, and this is known as exempt development. However, these projects will need to meet specific development standards and land requirements.

You can find out exactly what sort of changes you’re allowed to make without planning approval by using the Department of Planning and Environment’s interactive building tool, but examples of smaller projects that would likely be exempt include:

  • Pergolas, carports and shade structures
  • Unroofed decks, patios and terraces
  • Garages, sheds and gazebos
  • Fences and freestanding walls
  • Refinishing external appearance

When in doubt, always contact your Neighbourhood Service Centre or local council beforehand to find out whether your proposed project is allowed, whether you’ll need to lodge a DA, what fees you’ll need to pay, and whether the plans, codes and policies in your area would affect your proposed development.

How to get the DA process started

If your building project doesn’t fall under exempt development, you will either need to lodge a development application (DA) or a complying development certificate (CDC).

Complying development

Straightforward renovations that have a low impact and comply with the development standards in the State Policy may fall under complying development. Projects that fall into this category require a Complying Development Certificate, but approval can be determined by a private certifier or council without the need for a full development application.

Examples of complying development include:

  • Swimming pools
  • Granny flats
  • Renovations
  • Home extensions

A complying development certificate can be prepared, lodged and tracked online, and will usually be approved within ten days. Find out if your building project is complying development by visiting the Electronic Housing Code website.

Development application

If your building project doesn’t fall under exempt development or complying development, you’ll need to lodge a development application with your local council.

Before lodging your DA, however, it’s always a good idea to discuss your plans with your immediate neighbours to see if they have any concerns or complaints.

This is because once your application has been lodged, there may be a period of public notification during which members of the community are given a chance to voice any objections they may have, which could end up wasting valuable time and money.

After you’ve addressed any concerns as best you can and are ready to lodge your DA, you can check the relevant DA form to find out what information and documentation will need to be included. Generally, the following supporting information will be required:

  • Completed DA form There are different forms for different categories of development, including small scale residential and small scale commercial. You can download the forms or get more information about them here.
  • Owner’s consent You will need to include verified consent from all registered owners of the property.
  • Description of proposed development You must include a detailed description of what you intend to build, renovate or demolish.
  • Estimated cost of works The development application fee is based on the estimated cost of development, so you must include this information in your application. In some cases, a cost summary report must be prepared by a suitably qualified person such as a licensed builder or registered architect.
  • Plans and sketches You’ll likely need to prepare a number of scaled drawings for your proposed development, including a site or floor plan showing where you intend to build and plans showing where the site is in relation to any adjoining premises.
  • Environmental impact statement Depending on the type of building work you intend to carry out, you may need to include an environmental impact statement, which will look at the expected impact of your proposed development on the environment, adjoining premises or the public.
  • Required fees The required fees will vary depending on the type of work you intend to carry out. If you’re not sure what fees you’ll need to pay, you’ll likely be able to find a schedule of fees and charges on your local council website or contact the council directly for specific information.

Keep in mind that your planning consultant, architect or tradie will likely have more experience with the DA process than you do, and may be able to guide you through it. On average, over one third of all DAs are returned to applicants for further information, which can add an average of 47 days to the process.

Once you’ve gathered all the supporting documentation, you can lodge your DA online through your local council website, where you’ll also be able to track it while you await approval.

DA Approval – What to expect

How much does a DA cost and how long should you expect to wait for council approval? Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about development approval.

How long does council approval take?

Once you’ve lodged your DA, it can take anywhere from 30 to over 100 days to receive council approval, depending on your council and the type of development you’re proposing.

A 2011 report found that in general, urban councils are the slowest to process development applications, taking an average of 81 days. Some of the slowest councils included Botany Bay City Council and Hurstville, where development approval took an average of 136 and 117 days.

The best way to ensure that your DA will be processed as quickly as possible is to make sure you have included all the necessary information and supporting documentation. Consider hiring a consultant to go over your application before it’s lodged, or at the very least, visit your local council in person to get advice and information.

How much does it cost to lodge a DA?

Some of the fees you’ll need to pay include a development fee, a Construction Certificate fee and a Compliance Certificate fee, which are calculated based on the estimated cost of development. So you’ll pay less for smaller renovations and building projects than you would for larger ones.

In order to calculate the fee for your own application, you’ll need to refer to your Council’s fee structure, so it’s best to contact your local council directly or visit your council website for personalised information.

What are the chances of success?

As long as you’ve included all the relevant information in your application and paid the required fees, your DA has a good chance of being approved.

Before approving the DA, your local council will need to determine whether the development fits with the strategic land use plan and complies with the land use controls. If it does, you can expect your application to be approved. If doesn’t, you will likely be asked to modify the proposed development before it can be approved.

Either way, once a final decision has been reached, you will be notified in writing. If the application has been approved, you’ll receive a copy of the development consent. If it has been refused, you’ll receive a refusal notice explaining the reasons behind the council’s decision.

What can you do if your DA is refused?

If worse comes to worst and your development application is not successful, you can apply for a review of the decision or challenge it by submitting an appeal to the Land and Environment Court.

As frustrating as a DA refusal can be, however, you should know that appealing it in court can be a time-consuming and costly process, with no guarantee of success.

According to a Local Development Performance Monitoring Report, developers who appealed council decisions to the Land and Environment Court were successful 47% of the time, but 40% of these were upheld after the issues raised by the council had been addressed in an amended DA.

You can find out more about how to apply for the decision to be reviewed or appeal directly to the NSW Land and Environment Court here.

Council approval process across Sydney councils

Because the council approval process may vary slightly depending on where you live, it’s important to contact your local council or a Neighbourhood Service Centre near you for personalised advice and information.

To get a general overview of the per-value costs, average DA processing time and success rate in your area, click on your local council in the interactive map below.

If you’re ready to begin the application process, find your council in the list below and visit the website provided, where you’ll be able to download the relevant application form and get specific instructions on how to pay the required fees and lodge your DA.