development approval

Do you know if someone is applying for a unit development next door?

We always recommend that all of our clients sign up to which is a website that will send you email notifications if someone was to lodge a development application within a certain proximity of your address.

Their website tells the story perfectly: You’d probably know if your next-door neighbour was going to knock their house down. But you might live in blissful ignorance that your favorite old cinema or pub five streets away will never reopen because its going be converted into luxury flats, until the bulldozers turned up that is.

What to do if someone lodges an application that you have concerns about? Well, you can always lodge a public submission opposing or supporting the proposal to Local Council and we can assist in that process.

how to lodge a submission

How can we help you subdivide a property?

From concept stage through to completion, a simple 1 into 2 subdivision can require the involvement of up to 20 odd people from town planners, surveyors, engineers, contractors, banks, Local Council, real estate agents…etc. It’s never quite as easy as what they make it look on TV, so here at Steffan Town Planning we offer the fundamental service of project management. We can manage your project through the development approval stage and ensure your framework is set for your job post-DA.

We pride ourselves on being a one-stop shop for your development approval. Once engaged, we’ll deal with the rest until we hand over your DA.

In this article, I thought I would take you through how our process ensures the smoothest, most efficient and stress-free experience for our clients.

subdivision proposal plan

When we get a call about a potential subdivision we follow the following steps free of charge for our client.

 Step 1. We assess the development potential of the property/site (using PropertEASE); this step highlights any potential issues such as slope, connection to services…etc. – we then share this feedback with our client.

Step 2. We discuss the project with our network of trusted advisors including civil engineers, surveyors and feasibility consultants to ensure the project is achievable.

Step 3. We send our client a fee proposal outlining the process and charges involved.

We thrive on a challenge here at STP and always provide our clients with honest feedback. We always work resourcefully to achieve the best possible outcome and it’s rewarding for us to see clients succeed and become more prosperous on their development journeys.

concept battle-axe

Once we are officially engaged to complete a job we will obtain multiple surveying and civil engineering quotes from our network of experienced and reliable consultants. We work alongside these consultants from pre lodgement right through to lodgement of the application to ensure all T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted.

During the pre-lodgement stage, we gather the supporting documents required for submission to Council, such as; subdivision plan, concept services plan, hydraulic reports, ecology reports… etc. Our aim is to avoid information requests where possible so we always recommend to our clients that all supporting documents be obtained prior to lodgement. This ensures a speedy turnaround with minimal hassle for all parties.

Through the development application process with Council, we always make sure our clients are 100% informed each step of the way. We check in with Council regularly and provide our clients with weekly updates to guarantee we push it along as fast as possible. We also provide RiskSMART approvals, which allow us to gain approvals within just 5 business days.


What’s next? We hand over your development approval for you to move onto the next phase of operational works. At this stage, our job is done but we don’t just leave you high and dry, we will refer you back to the consultants who originally did the work for the development application who will be able to help you keep the ball rolling to complete the project.

Can I build three-storeys?

Can I build three-storeys? As a private consulting town planner, this is a question I get almost daily. The quick answer is generally 'no' with a solid amount of 'maybe' in there dependant upon the circumstances of the individual allotment and elements in the proposed plans.

The majority of Local Government Areas in Queensland have adopted the definition of a 'storey' and 'basement' from the Planning Regulation 2017, which is a statewide piece of legislation that controls Local Council town planning processes. Understanding these definitions will allow you to use them to your advantage:

definition of storey

So basically, if it has a floor and a roof structure, it would be considered a 'storey' unless it is a 'basement'. So how can you use this to get a taller house? Let's look at some example section plans below. I will note, we are only talking about 'storeys' in this section and not overall height.

development approval required

In the above examples, you can see that although the actual building bulk is quite similar, the first section plan has worked with the definitions and ensured that there are no 'three-storey sections' throughout the building irrespective of it having 6 storeys. I have done this by:

  • Using the definition of a 'basement' to ensure that there are no 2 storey sections above/below what would also be considered a 'storey' on the bottom level;

  • Stepped the upper floors up/down the site to ensure there are not any three-storey sections;

  • Taken advantage of a 'rooftop terrace/deck' on the top floor as it does not fall under the definition of a 'storey'.

Understanding the definitions can really assist your designer/architect in getting the best results out of a site with a steep slope or when you want to take advantage of city views.


Now that we've covered how to take the definition of a 'storey' and 'basement' to your advantage we can't neglect the maximum building height (in metres) that you can build. In most Council regions, you can now build up to 9-9.5m in height. This does not also mean you can automatically build three-storeys (i.e. just because you can fit it, doesn't mean that you can build it). I could go on about how this doesn't make sense in terms of achieving the overall outcome of not creating large buildings overshadowing the neighbours and dominating the scale of the street because, at the end of the day, this what we have to work with.

accepted development

In the above street section plan, you can see that you can still achieve a much taller house by again taking advantage of the definition of a 'storey'. The building on the left, although higher is technically compliant with the code whereas the smaller building on the right, although breaking up the facade with stepping and being well under the 9.5m line would not be supportable as it has a large portion of 'three-storeys'.

Next time you're looking at a new build, or even an extension, taking into account the definitions under the planning scheme is essential in either avoiding a development application or at minimum give you a good chance at getting one approved. As always, you can find out the maximum building height in storeys and metres with a quick and easy PropertEASE report here.

How long does it take to get a development approval?

Almost all developments (no matter the size of the project) will begin by obtaining development approval (DA) from Council. But how long can this take?

Well, how long is a piece of string? You'll hear the horror stories of a DA taking 12 months to gain approval and almost never hear about the ones that only took a week. The timeframe of a DA can really depend upon the complexity of the application, what level of assessment it is(i.e. Code/Impact Assessable) and how many referral agencies it might have. In this article, I explore the standard timeframes associated with a normal development application in Queensland (timeframes will change between state/territory regions).

Code Assessable development application can be expected to take 45 business daysbefore Council issues a decision notice. This timeframe may be longer if Council makes an Information request (up to 3 months) and does not include the time for your town planner to prepare the lodgement documentation.

An Impact Assessable DA has a similar timeframe to a Code Assessable application but includes a 15 business day public notification period (with up to 10 business days in addition for Council to 'assess' any submissions). That is, up to 70 business days.

I have put the statutory timeframes in the below table for you to better understand the process (inclusive of a general 5-10 business day preparation time for your town planner). Please note that timeframes are subject to statutory requirements under the DA Rules, which Council, the Applicant and third parties must abide by. As such, it is very rare that a DA will take longer than the below timeframes:

town planning approval timeframes

As you can see, the DA process can take anywhere between 2 weeks and 4 months in accordance with the statutory timeframes. Once you have obtained your approval, under the Planning Act 2016, a Development Permit (Approval) issued is valid for a 6 year period.

Can it be faster than 9 business days ever? Yes. Most Local Government Areas (LGA) within Queensland will have a fast-tracked process most commonly referred to as 'RiskSMART'. With this process, the majority of Councils will guarantee a 5-business day turnaround for 100% compliant applications. This is because the town planning consultant will prepare all of the approval package just to be 'signed off' by Council. Not everything can be assessed through the RiskSMART process but it is always a good idea to ask your consultant if it is a potential avenue for your DA.

Any feedback or questions, feel free to post a comment.