A look at a real life example helps to demonstrate where local planning policies are going off the track.

Our first time developer clients have a 796 square metre irregular shaped block of land where the single-storey weatherboard house has been providing some rental income, though not enough to cover their costs of holding onto the block. Now the property owners wish to develop the land with three residential dwellings which will create passive rental income in retirement and have the option of creating a three lot property subdivision.

The land has a 17-metre frontage and is zoned General Residential, where the site coverage is a maximum of 60 per cent, permeability 20 per cent and maximum building height of nine metres. The land is in a well-established area where rental demand is high both from families and university students.

The property backs on to a creek which creates an attractive open outlook. But this is the first unfair obstacle they will face if they wish to develop the land with more than two dwellings. Across the creek is industrial land were the new factory units are built almost boundary to boundary.

Being so close to the creek, the land is affected by one or more areas of cultural heritage sensitivity as described in the Aboriginal Heritage Regulations 2007. Therefore, they need to prepare a Cultural Heritage Management Plan (CHMP) in relation to proposed activities on this property. The local council will not assess the planning application unless a report is submitted by an expert to show the site is exempt, so the first intrusion is made into the family budget – a hefty $7,000 fee to prepare a detailed report after several inspection pits are dug.

If the owners were to build one dwelling, they could build a box like home with an area of over 700 square metres with a 10 square metre rooftop garden to satisfy the open space requirement. They would be exempt from the CHMP report. The single dwelling could cover 60 per cent of the land and could have two double garages with an in and out circular driveway. Council consent would not be required to build this monstrosity.

However, if they were to develop two residential dwellings, council consent is mandatory. Once again, the maximum site coverage would be 60 per cent, however they would now need to provide the very generous open space per dwelling on the ground which the schedule to the zone demands. The built form would no longer be boxy, which is economical to build, but would now have a recessed upper storey, which could be 65 per cent of the ground floor footprint. This “articulated” built form requires more beams, will generate more material wastage and room sizes might not be as functional as what a boxy structure would allohw. Having two garages facing the street is discouraged as garages should not be visible from the street. The two lot subdivision would be exempt from the CHMP report.

But once the decision to build three dwellings becomes the development goal, the owners would be up for the CHMP exemption report, a five per cent of land value contribution to council and they would be subject to the textbook theory the council officer will rely upon.

Economical built forms, compact housing with less open space to meet rental demand, box like dwellings with green roofs, less reliance on motor vehicles would all make sense in designing for the site.

However we would now require to provide car parking for six cars with each garage hidden from the street view, which then requires more concrete driveways. We would provide 75 square metres of open space which no tenant really needs and a built form would be highly articulated even though most of the existing homes on the street are in original condition and very box like in appearance. Good design will be the phrase used in discussions with council. What is good design?

And on the other side of the creek, the factories will still be built boundary to boundary with box like appearances and there will be no need for a CHMP exemption nor will they require council approval. The independent building surveyor will sign off on the development as long as the standards to the zoning schedule are met. The same would apply if the owners wished to build one 700 square metre house and good design would not be discussed.