August 15, 2015 Written by: John Glossop, Director, Glossop Town Planning

Selecting a site for development

In my role as Director of Glossop, clients frequently ask me to give them a quick answer to “how many townhouses can I fit on this site” or “how many apartments does the planning scheme allow”. I see cases where owners have purchased sites on the premise that a particular site area equates to a required dwelling yield or worse “the neighbour did it so I can do it too”.  

These approaches rarely (if ever) provide reliable estimates of development potential.

I cannot emphasise enough the importance of a thorough due diligence process before purchasing a site.  A site inspection, having a meeting with Council and getting good legal advice are always important before purchase.

My office specialises in planning advice for developers, architects and building designers on the development potential of sites.  In my experience, there is no “one size fits all approach” to estimate likely development outcomes for a given site.  Assessment of development potential requires experience, insight and a rigorous analysis of planning controls and the physical context of the land. 

For a multi-dwelling project, planning considerations often include:

  • What are the planning controls, required planning permissions and relevant decision criteria to obtain planning approval?
  • Are there any registered restrictive covenants or encumbrances on title that could influence a site's development potential? Your legal advisor should be involved in checking the land title and explaining the impact of these on the site.
  • What are the mandatory and discretionary decision criteria (such as zones, overlays and policy) that guide use, density and building envelopes?
  • How accessible is the site to facilities and services such as public transport, commercial facilities and public open space?  Generally, sites that are closer to facilities and services receive stronger policy support for increased housing (but not always).
  • To what extent does the planning scheme encourage a change to the area’s current character.  How consistent is the area’s existing character?  In locations where the planning scheme expects an area’s existing character to change substantially over time, it is rarely appropriate for new development to respect the existing character.  Instead, new development should respond to the future character of the area.  Locations which have a diverse existing character often provide greater scope for design options.
  • What are the relevant planning controls for nearby land and what impact do they have on development of the site?
  • Does the site share a boundary with properties that are sensitive to new development? What constraints do these properties have on a site's development potential? For instance, be aware that the planning scheme requires new development to be setback from neighbouring north facing habitable room windows within 3 metres of the boundary (such as living rooms and bedrooms) and backyards. Once we know the features of the neighbouring sites, we are in a position to estimate a new building's footprint.
  • What are the influences of the features of the site and surrounding are on new development (such as dimensions, easements, services, solar orientation, vegetation and slope)?  It is important to confirm the physical features with a site inspection.
  • What are the options for vehicle access?

I also recommend that clients engage an architect or building designer to provide some concept sketches to see how a development might be laid out and then get our advice to also review those assumptions. 

In my experience, the planning controls and features of the site and area significantly impact on development potential.  My office has extensive experience reviewing and advising on these matters and facilitating meetings with Council.  I have provided an example of a site layout below that responds well to its contexts.

For further information regarding development potential of sites, please feel free to contact us.