Town Planning FAQ’s

Here’s some answers to frequently asked questions about Town Planning.

What is Town Planning?2019-03-24T01:36:12+00:00

We’ve answered this in an article about What is Town Planning?

What is Development?2019-03-24T01:36:44+00:00

Development comprises of two components – the physical man-made characteristics of a site (structures, site works such as sand fill and retaining walls, landscaping, etc) present on the land, and the manner in which the site is used.

As such, proposing landscaping in front of an existing house, and proposing to use a house as a restaurant instead of a dwelling – without any physical changes (i.e. – a change of use), would both be considered developments in their own right.

What is the purpose of having different land ‘zones’?2019-03-24T00:55:25+00:00

Specific areas of land are classified or ‘zoned’ differently from one another in order to minimise conflict between different types of developments and land uses. For example, a common type of zone is the ‘Residential’ zone, which is intended to ensure that the land is restricted for residential use only (with few minor exceptions). By zoning a street ‘Residential’, potential impacts caused by other land uses can be avoided. For instance, traffic and parking issues resulting from customers visiting a shop, noise and odors from an industrial facility, a warehouse with large sheds that can make the street look less attractive, etc. Conversely, industrial zones do not allow for developments such as housing as these uses can be vulnerable to activities from nearby industrial developments, while such developments could be on the receiving end form complaints from residents.

Notwithstanding the above, it is not to suggest that a particular land use or development is limited to only one zone, but that planning schemes feature zoning to ensure that conflicts between different land uses are kept to a minimum and can be readily managed.

Does every development proposal require a Development Application?2019-03-24T01:37:20+00:00

No, many minor developments are exempt from requiring Development Approval. However, this can differ depending on the nature of the property and development. Please refer to Clause 61. – Development for which development approval not required – of Part 7 of Schedule 2 of the Western Australian Planning and Development (Local Planning Schemes) Regulations 2015 (also referred to as the ‘Deemed Provisions’) for a detailed outline of such developments. 

Please also note the following:

  • Single dwelling developments which comply with the Deemed Provisions, the ‘deemed-to-comply’ requirements of the ‘R-Codes’ and relevant local planning policies are exempt from requiring Development Approval, but still require Building Certification and a Building Permit;
  • Provisions from Local Planning Policies often vary the ‘deemed-to-comply’ of the R-Codes.
What are the ‘R-Codes’?2019-03-24T01:37:40+00:00

The Residential Design Codes of Western Australia (commonly referred to as the ‘R-Codes’) is a State Government Policy (SPP3.1) which is inferred power directly through the State Planning and Development Act 2005. The purpose of the R-Codes is to provide a consistent and comprehensive basis for the control of residential development throughout all Local Governments in Western Australia. They are intended to cover all requirements for residential planning control purposes and to minimise the need for Shires to introduce separate planning policies or variations to these matters. Notwithstanding, it is common for local governments to alter the provisions of the R-Codes through the introduction of their own planning policies. 

The R-Codes do not address the physical construction requirements or the specific internal design of buildings – these are matters controlled by the Building Code of Australia.

What is the difference between Town Planning and Building Certification?2019-04-09T08:42:44+00:00

Town Planning is more concerned with how developments interact with the surrounding built environment, ensuring that the development is compatible with and compliments its surrounding, and does not conflict with other developments/desired characteristics of the locality.

In contrast, Building Certification is more concerned with how the building physically performs. For instance, how fast it will burn down, whether the stairs are convenient and safe enough to climb, how disabled people can access and travel around the building, whether emergency exits are appropriately designed and place for fast and safe evacuations, etc. Such requirements are addressed in the National Construction Code (NCC).

 FORMSCAPE works alongside WABCA Group to deal with both town planning and building certification matters.

What is the difference between a ‘Development Application’, and a ‘Building Application’?2019-04-09T08:43:20+00:00

The construction and alteration of buildings are regulated by the need to submit an application for a ‘Building Permit’. These applications allow for the proposed buildings, structures and alteration work to be assessed against the requirements of the NCC, which includes the Building Code of Australia (BCA). A building permit is required before any building work can be carried out. A registered building surveyor is engaged by the applicant to certify compliance to the building standards by issuing a certificate of design compliance (CDC).

The Planning Approval process, also referred to as Development Approval (DA) regulates the use and development of land by assessing proposals against the Local Government’s planning schemes and the State’s planning legislation. The Development Approval process focuses particularly on the impact of a proposal on the site and neighbouring land. It addresses the following sorts of issues: 

  • Does it comply with planning scheme requirements?
  • Will it cause overshadowing or loss of privacy to neighbours?
  • Is it located an appropriate distance from boundaries?
  • Is the scale and size appropriate for the area?
  • Is there adequate car parking?
  • Does it create any access or traffic safety issues?
  • Are the hours of operation appropriate for the area?
  • Are there any environmental constraints that need to be considered? 

Certain developments however do not require Development Approval, meaning you can go straight to pursuing a Building Permit. However, you should always check with your Local Council before preparing working drawings as this generally only for certain types of proposals, or in the case of single dwellings, if they are fully compliant with the ‘deemed-to-comply’ requirements of the R-Codes or related local planning policy. 

If you are unsure or not confident your application complies with planning requirements, seek professional advice prior to submitting for approval.

What is the difference between a ‘change of use’ and a ‘change of building classification’?2019-04-09T08:44:03+00:00

A ‘change of use’ refers to a change in regards to how a particular site (or part of a site) is used, as defined in the relevant Local Planning Scheme. Each Local Planning Scheme provides a set of land use classifications and definitions and requirements in relation to these.

 A ‘change of building classification’ refers to the classification of buildings and structures as outlined in Part A3 of NCC 2016 Building Code of Australia – Volume One. Whereas Local Planning Schemes focus on town planning matters and vary among different localities, the NCC is utilised throughout Australia, and outlines the technical requirements for the design and construction of buildings and other structures.

 A ‘change of use’ under a Local Planning Scheme may not necessarily require a ‘change of building classification’, as a building classification can often be relevant to a variety of different uses. However, significant changes in the way a building is used (for instance, an apartment building to a hospital), would definitely require a change of building classification as well as a change of use under the relevant Local Planning Scheme. Changes of Building Classification often involve renovations to the existing buildings/structures so as to attain compliance with current NCC building requirements.

Conversely, a ‘change of use’ under a Local Planning Scheme can also require modifications to development on-site, albeit relating to planning matters. For instance, adequate parking, vehicular access, waste collection, etc.

How long does it take for Development Application to be processed?2019-03-24T01:39:46+00:00

The standard timeframes for Development (Planning) Applications to be processed by Local Governments in Western Australia are up to 60 statutory (working) days, or up to 90 statutory days if the application needs to be advertised for neighbours/public comment.

How can you ‘speed up’ the Development Application assessment process?2019-03-24T01:40:19+00:00

Unless you are the assigned planning officer assessing the application, there is limited control of the speed of the assessment process once the application is submitted to the local government or relevant authority. Even if the application were simple, the authority could be having to deal with a large backlog of other applications before they can begin processing yours.

However, you do have control over how quickly the development application can be prepared, and how quickly you can respond to requests for further information from the assigned planning officer.

Providing quality drawings of your proposal to scale, and depicting all the information the planning officer needs to know and assess is essential to minimising delays during the assessment process. Likewise, responding to queries and matters raised by the planner appropriately and as soon as possible also limits the time the assessment is ‘paused’ due to lack of information or for any other reason.

Likewise, having a town planning practitioner familiar assist you early during the project can also ensure that planning issues are identified and addressed early. Planning assessments prior to the finalisation of the design and lodgment of the application is ideal in this regard.

Should you believe that neighbours may need to be consulted during the assessment process, it would also be wise to speak to them about the application so that any concerns they may have can be identified and addressed early. The need for advertising a Development Application may be negated if written comments from neighbours can be provided upfront.

We do not have any drawings of our proposal. Could you prepare them for us?2019-04-09T08:45:15+00:00

FORMSCAPE works alongside Approvals By Design, which is also part of the WABCA Group. They will be able to tend to your drafting needs. We often work together on projects, so we can request a quote from them and add it to ours. (Note: we do not mark up their prices as we are part of the same parent company).

Will this rough sketch of the proposed development be sufficient for the Development Application?2019-04-16T00:49:20+00:00

Most likely not. Urban planners are unable to assess plans properly or too the full extent if not all the relevant information is provided on the drawings, or if the drawings are not sufficiently legible. Planning Officers cannot approve of a Development Application if they cannot determine its compliance. When poor drawings are submitted so as to ‘rush’ the Development Application process, amendments are typically requested by the assessor anyway. Otherwise, if the drawings are that inadequate, it may not even pass through council administration.

On another note, you may also wish to consider the prospect of the development application being advertised. Neighbours may be hesitant to support a proposal if they cannot easily interpret the drawings and understands the nature of the development.

What do the plans need to show for the Development (Planning) Application?2019-03-24T01:42:53+00:00

Your plans should include the following: 

Site Plans

  • Street name(s), street, and lot number
  • North Point
  • Lot boundaries, area, and dimensions of the site
  • Existing and proposed buildings/structures, their dimensions, and distances from lot boundaries (setbacks)
  • Natural Ground Levels (obtained from a site feature survey)
  • Existing/proposed finished floor levels
  • Location and details of any proposed earthworks (excavation and fill), and method of retaining (i.e. – retaining walls, banking, etc.)
  • Car parking, maneuvering areas, driveway and crossover locations, etc.
  • Details of any fencing
  • Existing vegetation and vegetation to be removed
  • Trees on-site and within street verge to be retained, and trees to be removed
  • Method of stormwater treatment on-site and location of relevant infrastructure (i.e. soak wells, swales, etc.)
  • Position of any septic tanks, and leach drains
  • Position of any assigned or proposed development envelopes (common for rural lots)
  • Location and dimensions of any easements, reciprocal access etc.
  • Infrastructure such as crossovers, power poles, gas pipelines, etc.
  • Any natural water courses/bodies

Floor Plan/s

  • A floor plan for each level
  • Internal layouts showing doors/windows etc. with dimensions and room names
  • If a commercial/change of use application, what each area is used for (e.g. Area for retail, dining, storage, offices, etc.)
  • Total floor area in square metres.
  • Locations of external fixtures (e.g. power domes, water meters, electric meters, downpipes, etc.)


  • Height of walls and roof pitch from natural ground level
  • The natural ground level
  • The proposed finished floor level/s
  • View of proposed building(s)/structures detailing all openings and features
  • Details of external construction materials and colours proposed.
  • Windows to be fixed and/or feature obscured glazing to be clearly identified.

Note: Preferred scales are typically 1:100, 1:200, or 1:500 depending on the size of the site area, and 1:100 and 1:200 for floor plans and elevations.

More information may be required depending on the nature of the development you’re proposing.

How do I lodge an application for Subdivision Approval?2019-03-24T01:43:12+00:00

All applications for the subdivision of land are lodged with the Western Australian Planning Commission (WAPC), as the Commission determines all subdivision applications in WA. Application forms can be downloaded from the WAPC’s website (under Applications). The WAPC refers subdivisions applications to the City for comment in accordance with Section 142 of the Planning and Development Act 2005.

In regards to subdivision, what is the difference between Green or Freehold, Built Strata, and Survey Strata titles?2019-03-24T01:43:34+00:00

Land can be subdivided three ways: 

  1. Green title or freehold subdivision (No common property)
  2. Survey strata subdivision (Can include common property, title includes land around building)
  3. Built Strata subdivision (Title usually includes only the building footprint). 

Both green title and survey strata subdivisions allow the creation of vacant lots. 

The primary difference between a green title subdivision and a survey strata subdivision is the nature of the land titles created – green title allows the creation of individual land titles for each lot, while survey strata creates individual land parcels on one title. Built strata subdivisions may only be used to subdivide land that has existing buildings or structures. Applicants should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the potential subdivision options available with a licensed land surveyor.

Why bother? What if I just develop what I want without Planning or Building approval?2019-03-24T01:44:08+00:00

Most likely, the lack of having the relevant approvals would be discovered eventually. Following ways in which this is discovered include:

  • Comparing historical and current aerial imagery and google street view (Big Brother is watching you!)
  • Complaints from nearby residents about your development trigger the local council/authority to investigate. 

Furthermore, when proposing alterations to development on site and a new approval is required, you would need to address and rectify the unapproved/non-compliant developments before the relevant authority can issue approval for new development. 

Another important consideration is that unapproved works built will be subject to present planning and building requirements as opposed to the requirements in place when they were originally built. As planning-building requirements evolve over time, this means that more work will be needed to be carried out to bring unapproved works to current standards (should you not wish to removal/demolish/cease the development).

Oh no! I built something or have a property with development which hasn’t been approved! What can I do?2019-04-09T08:46:39+00:00

If this is the case, you can apply for retrospective Development Approval. 

Please note however that planning and building matters would typically be dealt with simultaneously in this situation, as it makes little sense for Development Approval to be granted for something which cannot be granted a retrospective building permit. 

FORMSCAPE and WABCA Group are quite familiar with retrospective development applications,