Contrary to conventional wisdom, red tape was developed in Europe to speed things up rather than slow things down.

The term is widely believed to have originated during the Spanish administration of Charles V, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, in the early 16th century. Charles V is said to have first used “red tape” to bind the most important administrative dossiers that required immediate discussion. This separated those matters from those more ordinary administrative matters, which were bound with string.

Today the opposite is perhaps true; once any matter gets wrapped in red tape, it becomes victim to administrative horrors or illogical delays based on not uncommon bureaucratic bungling. This turns the tape into a metaphorical boa constrictor that eventually either chokes the matter or renders it so weak that it is barely able to fulfil its intended function

Red tape has become too real for many of us working in the property field in Sydney and across Australia. On so many occasions, the rules themselves have taken precedence over achieving a good outcome…or sometimes any outcome at all.

Take the very simple case of one individual who asked EG Property for assistance in approving a carport extending over his own yard to house his wife’s car, which would otherwise occupy a spot on an inner city street. He had been some three years trying to get an approval but to no avail. The red tape had constricted and choked his various attempts at considerable personal cost.

This of course is the simplest application of all – a carport. The zoning allows it, the rules allow it and common sense almost dictates it. Simple? Not quite. It took the experience and expertise of EG Group some six months to get the matter approved – not constructed, just approved – at an inner Sydney city council. There were more than 30 documents to commission and collate.

First there was the planning report, the statement of environmental effects, the heritage statement and many more, but what took the cake was the insistence of the council officer on a traffic report to certify in accordance with the Australian Standards that it was acceptable to get a car off the road and park it in a car port.

If you want a classic example of how red tape actually works, there it was. EG Group had to commission a traffic expert to state that if the same car that had previously been parked on the street was now housed in the car port, that this did not have a “deleterious impact” on traffic in the street.

They say that truth is stranger than fiction and on this occasion it certainly was. Perhaps we can go back to the original definition of red tape and put one single elegant band around the documents that need speeding up. Here’s hoping for more from the antiquated NSW planning system. Charles V did better.