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Everything You Need to Know About Exempt Development

Exempt development is a shortcut to some property development projects that lets developers achieve their goals without much hassle. Learn more about it and how you can make the most of it. 

Before they begin their projects, most property developments would need Development Approval. It’s a legal document allowing developers to undertake a project. This approval specifies other documents the project needs to acquire, such as the location and design plans, structural details, footing depth, and more. It also sets the timeline of the project. 

This legal document is important because it ensures structural adequacy, health and amenity, fire safety, energy efficiency, and equitable access for people with disabilities of the intended property. 

However, not all property developments need Development Approval. There are a few exceptions called “exempt development”.

In this article, we explain what these exceptions are. We also share the steps to starting such a development to optimise your workflow and focus on more important aspects of the project.

What is Exempt Development?

Minor works and building renovations that don’t require building and planning approvals are known as “exempt development” projects. This term refers to a low impact development suitable for commercial, residential, and industrial sites. 

All works that are low impact and meet the development standards as per the State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPPs) can become exempt developments. It’s worth noting that the SEPPs usually deal with state or regional environmental issues of significance. 

The exempt development first saw the light of the day in NSW in 1998. 

At the time, the NSW Government allowed councils to choose whether they wanted to prepare their specific lists of exempt developments or adopt the ones listed on the NSW Government’s list. Most councils then decided to prepare their own development lists, ending with 115 different codes with exempt standards as a result. 

However, neighbouring council areas that share houses of similar sizes may have different rules for the same exempt development type. 

For this reason, developers and homeowners easily get confused and end up lodging development applications (DAs) for minor property improvements. This results in the councils processing tons of DAs daily. The red tape slows down the residential property improvement process and costs homeowners and developers time and money. So, the NSW Government introduced the State-wide exempt development code for specific development types controlled by pre-determined standards to handle the situation. 

The Department of Planning also attempts to promote awareness of this development type to reduce the overwhelming development application demands. So long as the project is carried out according to the Exempt Development Code, it can be completed without the need for development consent. 

Keep in mind that other legislative requirements for approvals, permits, licenses, or authorities may still apply.

All exempt development projects need to be carried out under specific conditions, and the environmental impact needs to be minimal. Also, the project can’t be carried out if:

  • The Wilderness Act of 1987 lists the land as a wilderness area.
  • The Threatened Species Conservation Act of 1995 and the Fisheries Management Act of 1994 list the land as critical habitat.
  • The State Heritage Register lists the proposed land as a state heritage.
  • The Heritage Act of 1977 lists the land as an interim heritage item.

Remember, all development works also need to comply with the Building Code of Australia. In the absence of relevant provisions, the development must be structurally adequate. 

What Development Types Can Be Exempt?

The exempt developments can be sorted into three groups:

  • General – for various types of building work 
  • Advertising and Signage – for business signs and similar signage
  • Temporary Uses and Structures – for filming, tents, sheds, or marquees for events

There’s a range of exempt development types, with some of the most common ones including:

  • Access ramps
  • Air conditioners
  • Aviaries
  • Balconies
  • Carports
  • Earthworks
  • Fences
  • Patios
  • Terraces
  • Poultry and fowl houses
  • Hot water systems
  • Rainwater tanks
  • Retaining walls
  • Playgrounds
  • Letterboxes
  • Tennis courts
  • Verandas
  • Artworks and sculptures

Even though these structures are considered minor, they can have an adverse effect on the neighbours and streetscapes if not controlled properly. As a result, the NSW Housing standards try to minimise the impact by restricting the location and the size of the abovementioned structures. 

Some exempt development exclusions protect against negative impacts on sensitive land or special character land. For example, it’s forbidden to build carports near local heritage items. 

Also, to protect environmentally sensitive areas and the foreshore, it’s impossible to build hardstands and driveways as exempt development. Each development type has specific standards that identify the exclusions.

Obtain an Exempt Development in Five Steps

There are five steps to obtaining exempt development. 

First, you want to check whether your proposed development is exempt under the Codes SEPP. You want to check for general exclusions (clauses 1.4), general land exemptions (clauses 1.19), and local exclusions (view the planning certificate). 

If the development is exempt, the next step is to verify whether it meets the general requirements under the Codes SEPP. This includes the development types from the Codes SEPP (Part 2) and the exempt development general requirements (Clause 1.16). 

The third step is to check whether the project meets the standards under the SEPP. For this, you want to verify the Exempt Development, Part 2. 

Then, it’s important to assess the conditions and additional requirements for the complying development. This includes the Building Code of Australia, asbestos removal guidelines, TPOs, Australian Standards, etc. 

If all requirements are met, the last step is to proceed with the development without asking for planning approval. 

Now, if any of the conditions from any of the steps above aren’t satisfactory and the development isn’t exempt under the SEPP, you may want to consider lodging a CDC, consulting council for additional options, or lodge a DA. 

Consider Exempt Developments 

As mentioned, Development Approval is the essential legal document for most building work and renovation projects. On the other hand, exempt developments don’t require approvals of this kind. You can start a development project without going through the hassle of obtaining building permissions. 

But to do so, your development still needs to comply with the SEPPs, Building Code of Australia, Australian Standards, and more. 

Whether you’re after a general exempt development, signage exempt development, or temporary uses and structure development, make sure to check the above mentioned regulations. 

If you can kickstart a project without a DA, it’s worth knowing about it as it saves money and time both in the short and long term.

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