• VCAT

March 4, 2020

Obtaining planning permits for commercial premises

No matter if you are opening up your first physical shop or giving your existing shop a fresh new design, the first contact you likely to make is often to an architect or a builder because the feeling of getting a design drawn up and seeing your idea slowly becoming reality is always exciting. But there is always one step many business owners forget about and often scramble to find help at the last minute. This important step is identifying required planning permits and obtaining approval from local council. All properties in Australia have some form of planning controls in place. The Planning scheme contains state and local planning policies, zones and overlays and other provisions that affect how land can be used and developed. The planning scheme determines if a planning permit is required to change the use of land or to construct a building or make other changes to the land. It is quite often that a planning permit is required to construct a building, alter a building facade or construct or carry out works. This means that all external works require planning approval. Some works also required to be to the satisfaction of the Referring Authority, such as Melbourne Water or VicRoads. It is worth keeping in mind that other controls (such as Design and Development Overlay, Heritage Overlay, Special Building Overlay and so on) within the Local Planning Policy may still require a planning permit for simple matters. The planning scheme also specifies relevant assessment criteria when a planning permit is required. In most instances, no matter if the work is as big as constructing a new building or as small as installing an advertising sign, it must be approved by the local council through the planning permit application process.

The Best Starting Point: Speak to a Town Planner

A town planner with experience in obtaining building or planning permits can provide you with advise on what types of permits and approvals you’ll need when you want to set up or make fit-out changes to your retail shop, office, commercial or business premises.

Common planning and building permit applications:

Situations where you’ll probably need a planning or building permit for a shop or commercial premises are:

  • setting up your store, food premises or other business
  • changing the existing shop front
  • attaching signage to the building
  • updating the internal fit-out of your premises
  • putting outdoor seating or heaters on a footpath.

Each councils often have specific requirements for different type of businesses. It is important to understand the council’s requirements before you commence work. Heavy penalties will apply if council finds out the use of the premises or the building works have not been approved.

Preparing for the application

Each Council will often have their own specific requirements and checklists, so it’s important to have professional assistance in the early stages. A professional town planner will be able to confirm and check the requirements before you submit an application. You’ll need to provide different information for different types of permit applications. That might include site plans, elevation drawings or a written report. This information will need to be at professional town planning standard for council to conduct assessments on. A professional town planner will be able to justify your business in a way that council will be more likely to support your business idea, especially if you are applying for a Change of Use permit, leading to a more seamless approval process.

If your business is likely to draw high amount of traffic or your customers are expected to commute via personal vehicle, it is important to prepare a traffic report that addresses council’s concerns. Advertising signs or other form of signage quite often assessed under a different part of the planning scheme. Having a town planner to assist you earlier on, can identify all the requirements right from the start and help you to prepare what is required for you to get your dream design approved.

Below outlines the different stages your town planning application will go through after it has been lodged to Council. 

Request for Further Information

After your town planner lodges the application, the planning officer of the council will check it and advise you (in writing) if further information is required. This stage is called Request for Further Information stage, this request is common and 99% of applications will go through this stage. If they do, they will contact your town planner who will then be able to work with you and your other consultants to gather all the required information and provide them promptly to the council. If the information can’t be provided in time, the application won’t be processed further.

Notice of a planning application (advertising)

This stage occurs unless the council is satisfied that granting a permit won’t cause material detriment to any person, or the planning scheme states that notice isn’t required. Council determines what notice should be given. They will let the applicant know which notice method is required, and explain what you need to do.

Notice of an application might be given via:

letters mailed to the owners and occupiers of adjoining / nearby properties (some councils require letters to be sent to owners and occupiers by registered post and others provide a mail-out service for permit applicants)

  • sign(s) erected on the land subject to the application
  • notice(s) in local newspapers
  • notice to adjoining municipalities and / or government authorities / organisations or utilities.

Through this process, neighbours are informed about a proposal and invited to inspect the plans. Other parties can object to your proposal at this stage and a town planner can assist you in addressing these objections.

Council’s decision

At the end of the notification period (14 days), the council or responsible authority will assess the proposal and decide to:

  • issue a notice of decision
  • grant a permit
  • refuse a permit.

A permit can be granted with or without conditions, and a proposal can only go ahead if all conditions are met. For example, a permit for a restaurant might be issued on the condition that a certain number of car-parking spaces are provided.

The applicant and all objectors (if there were objectors) are informed of the council’s decision via a Notice of Decision or a Notice of Refusal. The notice will outline the next steps you can take. There are opportunities to apply to VCAT for a review such as if a permit condition is unacceptable or if council fails to make a decision in time.

Case Study – Telstra Melbourne Flagship Store, Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne 

Telstra engaged CS Town Planning to successfully obtain planning approval from Melbourne City Council for their flagship store project. The project involved a successful negotiation with Council on the number of digital and illuminated signage elements that were proposed along the Bourke Street mall and the Swanton Street façade of the building.

Case Study – ANZ Branch

CS Town Planning provides ongoing assistance to ANZ and Lendlease to gain approvals for their branch fitout work across Australia.

Previously a disused shop, the scope of works at 47 Bulcock Street, Caloundra in Queensland included change of use, new signage, including illuminated under awning sign, an illuminated ANZ logo and an electronic sign. Each item required a different planning permit approval. We were successful and all the signs were approved.

If you are opening a commercial venture and would like to confirm if you do require a council permit please do not hesitate to give us a call.