It is not possible, with any certainty, to anticipate times for development approvals. Qualified planning staff shortages, “blackout periods” at peak holiday periods, errors and omissions in public consultation notifications, scheduling of Council meetings and routine failures to distribute DA documents to other agencies and utilities in a timely manner are all reasons for unpredictable delays in processing and approval of development applications. Many Councils have taken to benchmarking themselves against other Councils on “number of days per approval” basis. This may serve as an indication of their historical performance in this area.
Most Councils and approving authorities are only “agents” for other authorities and utilities in the approval process. In particular, many Councils have subordinate roles to play with respect to State Main Roads and Environment Protection Departments. In this regard Councils are not in a position, and usually will not be drawn into a position, to provide opinions on what the other authorities may require as a condition of approval or how long it may take to obtain details of their requirements.
This milestone attracted the second highest recording of delays and events of delay. Funding recipients recorded 20 events of delay for the 33 GP Super Clinics and Departmental staff recorded 37 events. The most commonly reported event of delay by funding recipients was “New approval requirements imposed” (7 times) followed by “Design consultant documentation delay” (5 times) and “Council approval delays” (5 times).
Departmental staff responses to this section of the survey were heavily concentrated on “Other” causes of delay (16 times), followed closely by “Council approval delays” (11 times) and “New approval requirements imposed” (7 times). It is not possible to ascertain with any great accuracy the real reasons for the considerable delays during this phase, in the absence of surveys of Councils.
This phase is, however, arguably the least predictable in any private property development with regard to the timelines involved. It is also the least amenable to expedition because many of the requirements are statutory.
As is evident in the survey results, design consultants will often blame the shortcomings in their own performance on Councils and approving authorities. In several cases it is evident from some of the supplementary project information accessed for this evaluation that funding recipients, project managers and/or architects have failed to properly inform themselves of Councils’ requirements.
There is a tendency on the part of design professionals to take the most favourable views of Councils’ published requirements. They assume favourable outcomes in relation to timing will apply to their project if the contrary view will, in their or their client’s view, adversely affect the feasibility of the project. This is particularly so of parking requirements. From supplementary project information accessed on some of the projects, it is evident that delays occurred when funding recipients and their consultants first prepared parking plans. These plans were based on the most optimistic outcome, neglecting or declining to declare the optimistic assumptions to Council at DA submission stage. They then challenged the issue and, usually and almost always inevitably, redesigned the parking and the project to comply with the published Council requirements. In at least one instance it is clear that Council required the applicant to redesign the GP Super Clinic to reduce its size, and therefore the parking requirements it generated, as a condition of approval. In at least two cases it was necessary for the funding recipients to purchase additional land to meet the parking requirements.
It is not always possible to predict, regardless of how well the funding recipients or their professional consultants inform themselves, the additional information Councils and approving authorities may require before a DA submission is accepted for lodgement. Site contamination was cited in 3 instances as the reason for delays in approval of the DA, even though it was not clear, in the first instance, that any contamination existed. The mere risk that the site might be contaminated was seen as sufficient grounds to withhold approval until significant (and expensive) site assessment was carried out.
Councils, funding recipients or their professional consultants cannot forecast the outcome of public consultation and notification processes now common place in most jurisdictions. In cases where re-zoning of land is required as part of the approval process, two separate and distinct public consultation and notification processes may apply to the one project on the one site: one to the re-zoning; and another to the Development Application. In many instances, re-zoning applications, which always attract longer timelines, have to be approved before the DA approval can take effect. Objections arising from public notification have in one instance, resulted in delay of over one year to a GP Super Clinic proposal, at virtually no cost or risk to the objector.
Some Councils have a practice of attaching completion of a range of infrastructure works to the conditions of approval of the DA Notices of Determination for even small- to medium-sized, complying developments. It is common for Councils to require these works to be either fully documented and approved by other agencies, or for the works themselves to be completed before the Development Approval for the new building works takes effect. The option to secure the undertaking of these works by lodgement of a cash deposit or bank guarantee for the value of the works was rarely investigated by the funding recipients. Development Approval Notices of Determination or Consent now routinely attach thirty to fifty pages to Conditions of Approval.