Recently, I had a discussion with a young couple about to embark on their first property development.

They had bought land in Moorabbin which was conveniently located near schools, public transport and a small neighbourhood shopping strip. All of these conveniences score well in the town planning application to create a multi-lot subdivision.

The area is well established with a bus stop virtually at the front door.

The young couple had done the usual pilgrimage to many project home builders’ display centres and liked a plan for a duplex. The design and features ticked their wish list.

They had met the duty planning officer at their local council, who gave them general advice as one usually does if not presented with a set of well documented plans.

By the time they approached me to make their dreams come true, they had formed an impression that their proposed property subdivision for two lots using the off the shelf plans for the duplex would be plain sailing at council.

The young couple had overlooked a number of items which would give them a surprise.

To begin with, the site was sloping and project home plans are usually designed for flat sites and very often designed for new estates.

The side boundaries faced north and south, which is great for solar access, but it also carries the burden of casting shadows throughout the day on the existing house one metre off the southern boundary.

The adjoining house had most of its habitable windows facing north, and it enjoyed a pleasant sunny aspect as the house currently on the land was well set back from the front boundary and, being single-storey, did not affect the amenities of its neighbour. Amenities is the buzz word in councils. Will the proposed development adversely affect the amenities of adjoining properties? In this case, the box-like duplex design would definitely be an issue.

The other issues were the very large trees on adjoining properties. These trees were fairly close to the common boundaries. Any proposed structure must take into consideration the impact of the foundations on the root system of these trees. A straight box-like building could be problematic compared to one which is articulated and “built around” the root system.

And lastly, there was the matter of bulk. How would the neighbours react to a double-storey boxy building popping up and creating visual “pollution”?

All of the above items would be the basis of council’s decision to support or refuse the application for the duplex using off the shelf design.

On the other hand, a custom-designed plan would address all these critical items and respond to the challenges the site presented. A good design with a well-articulated planning report would analyse the challenges and respond with positive design solutions. That is what results in planning permits.