Why develop a child care centre and not a bowling alley?

The development of land and buildings is often a complex and lengthy process which involves multiple stakeholders, competing interests and numerous legislative provisions.  While the results of this process can be seen on the ground months or years after a decision by council, often these projects take a long time to even get to this stage.

Recent reports and the associated commentary around some of these decisions made by Ipswich City Council, including the former Masters Building at Springfield Central, highlight the need to improve community understanding about various issues.

This explainer on development applications should clear up some of the myths and mysteries behind the land development process.

1) What use, in what building?

Before a development application is made, the developer or landowner tests the proposal for its potential success.  This is generally through market research or analysis.  For example, before a child care centre is built, the developer will likely engage experts in the field to undertake an analysis to ensure that the population and age demographic of the area suit the proposal, that there is a need for a new child care centre considering the location and capacity of existing centres, and that the cost to build and prospective monetary return of a new centre is such that the project is feasible.  As a result, an aging population is less likely to get a new child care centre but a young community in an underserviced or growing area might.

This same exercise is required before the banks / lenders / financiers will hand over money for a proposal.  These agencies will want evidence that there is a market for the proposal to get a degree of certainty of its success.  In addition, these agencies often require a portion of the development to be sold or leased prior to the commencement of construction to further minimise risks.  This is particularly the case with residential unit proposals.

It is also important to note that certain uses, such as technology, will evolve over time, and things that used to work or were popular, may not continue to be popular or economically viable, which may lead to change.


2) Why doesn’t development happen straight away?

Despite council zoning land for a range of purposes, it is not always guaranteed that an individual will choose to develop land, or that financial institutions will lend the money necessary to develop the land.  For example, in the case of a new shopping centre, while the land may be zoned or identified for a shopping centre in the council’s planning scheme, it is unlikely to be developed until there is sufficient evidence there is enough activity or growth in the area to make the development a success.

At times, it can be many years before land is developed, even if it does have council approval.  Furthermore, landowners may choose to obtain development approvals for reasons other than to actually construct the development, such as to secure development rights for the future, or increase the value of a particular property for collateral against another project.

In addition, using the example of a shopping centre, a development approval provides for a range of uses which are suitable for the centre, and once the centre is established, the choice of the individual business and tenants which occupy that centre are largely driven by the respective developer, having regard to a range of market factors and the expressions of interest received.


3) Can’t council just say no?

Council is required by legislation to accept and assess development proposals pursuant to and against relevant planning legislation, including the planning scheme.  Council does not have the ultimate say on every aspect of a proposal.  For example, council does not and cannot specify the tenant for each tenancy of a shopping centre unless there is a technical reason to do so. The council assessment process may consider matters such as the size, location and design of the shopping centre but does not control the changeover of tenancies from one use to another (a hairdresser to a shoe store).

Council’s Planning Scheme includes a range of zones, sub-areas and overlays which provide a framework for the consideration of potential compatible uses.  Planning scheme zones do not limit uses to a single option.  For example, council does not designate land for service stations or fast food restaurants specifically, but a commercial zone could be used for these and a range of other uses.  Potential uses may also be impacted by other matters, such as relevant development constraints or individual circumstances applying to a particular site.

In addition, council does not have the ability to prohibit uses or refuse to receive an application.  This means that anyone can lodge an application over land, including if that proposal is not consistent with the council Planning Scheme or if the proposal has not been supported by council officers for technical reasons.

It is common for council officers to meet with consultants and developers prior to an application being lodged, and sometimes prior to land being purchased for a specific purpose.  This meeting can help identify key issues or provide advice going forward, including the suitability of a proposal with reference to the range of requirements considered in a development decision. Despite this, a landowner or developer may still choose to lodge an application despite it being inconsistent with the Planning Scheme.

It is worth noting that there are a limited range of developments that are prohibited by related state legislation.


4) If there are enough submissions against a proposal, does that mean council will automatically refuse the proposal?

The presence of a large volume of submissions does not always mean that a proposal will be refused.  Development that requires formal public notification is not always inconsistent with the planning scheme.  In addition, the Planning Act 2016 permits the making of a submission but in order for the submission to be effective, it needs to address technical issues (including planning, engineering, traffic).

Simply objecting to a proposal without sufficient grounds is not an effective way of opposing a development.  As a result, in the event that a development is compliant with the Planning Scheme and associated requirements or conditions can be attached to the decision in order to make it compliant, it may still be approved despite receiving submissions objecting to the proposal – even of there are large volumes of objections.

In addition, submissions can also be made in support of developments and these can also be considered in the assessment process.


5) I didn’t know that this proposal could be built next to me and now I want to object.

It is extremely important for landowners or purchasers to understand the requirements of the Planning Scheme for their land, but also land around them.  The Planning Scheme provides an insight into the expected types of development in an area and while it may not be exciting reading, it does establish a set of expectations.

The best time to understand these is prior to purchase or at the time a Planning Scheme is being amended or drafted.  It is not uncommon for people to buy land that does not meet their intended purpose.  For instance, the purchase of land that is not suitable for a house or land that is flood impacted, without first understanding the impact of this constraint.  It is also important to understand the land around you, and what it can be used for in the future.

In the coming months, Ipswich City Council will be consulting on the first elements of the new Ipswich Planning Scheme, which will start to elaborate on land use options and expectations for your suburbs.

This will be your first of several chances to shape the way development should look and feel in your area so it’s worth taking some time to review.  Further articles will be published in Ipswich First in the future on this topic.

Please contact council if there are any other questions you think we could answer.

Read also:

                  >>> Ipswich City Council make changes to how development applications are handled

                  >>> Childcare centre approved for former Masters site at Springfield Central

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