By Ryan Ashworth
The Federal Government’s Homebuilder stimulus package has really ramped up projects with many due for completion late this year or early next year. This means a heap more plan sealing requests over the coming months, placing enormous pressure on Authorities and plan sealing timeframes.
In a previous article, we looked at how earlier plan sealing could be achieved (click here). While getting an early start is crucial, there are some tips and tricks that have recently helped our clients with their approvals and we share these below.
1. Involve Authorities, Contractors and All Consultants
Some Authorities have been responding very positively to their role in aiding economic recovery. As such, we have been able to reach the right people to negotiate the following outcomes:
- Same day turnaround from Council engineers for plan sealing inspections including same day sign off,
- Pragmatic outcomes to plan sealing works such as deferring minor non-conformances to the on-maintenance stage,
- File note/email acceptance between officers to minimise time delays associated with Requests for Information (RFI’s).
Similarly, working with civil contractors has resulted in them responding positively to their role in the plan sealing process including:
- Co-ordinating and rescheduling the construction program to prioritise plan sealing triggers and complete these early (at no extra cost),
- Securing supply chains to better manage lead times for material and labour to deliver on plan sealing priorities,
- Ongoing weekly inspections to review plan sealing progress and apply corrective actions.
The key has been early involvement and a deeper understanding of key deliverables beyond just the construction of a project to save time where it makes a difference.
2. Uncompleted Works Bonding
Thresholds for bonding differ for each local authority. Some allow earlier bonding trigger points, others apply different bonding factors, and some have very specific definitions in their criteria to name just a few. It is extremely important to be familiar with these requirements so that we can find a good balance between managing bond amounts while avoiding unnecessary bonding delays. In most instances bulk earthworks and retaining works must be 100% compete but there are some other nuances as follows:
- Brisbane City Council generally do not permit bonding of trunk works so it is crucial to have these works completed for on-maintenance early,
- Moreton Bay Regional Council allow bonding of civil works at 50% completion,
- Logan City Council generally do not allow bonding of the last stage of development,
- Redland City Council manage their own water infrastructure and require sewer and water to be completed prior to plan sealing,
- Sunshine Coast Council define bonding at the stage of ‘non-essential infrastructure’ which has recently been interpreted as the point after footpath construction (near the end of the project),
- Bonding factors will vary for each Authority and typically range between 120% to 150%. It is important to apply the correct bonding factors,
- Your project may include separate components to be completed at different times e.g. stormwater basins, landscaping, rehabilitation, etc. Opportunities to prepare separate bonds for each component may assist with earlier bond releases,
- Some authorities have very specific terminology and definitions required for bonds. If in doubt, ask the question early to avoid the pain of needing to raise new bonds.
Importantly, other Authorities such as the Water Authorities need to be satisfied for plan sealing. Urban Utilities and Unitywater allow bonding at the 50% stage however as mentioned above, Redland Water requires completion of water and sewer whereas Logan Water does not allow bonding of a final stage of development.
While the above items form the typical rules for bonding, we have had some Authorities allow relaxations on a case by case basis to assist with expediting plan sealing.
3. Know the Council and Approval Condition Requirements
There are ways where conditions for plan sealing can be managed well before the application process. One way is to thoroughly review conditions of approval at the Development Approval stage and recognise any conditions that impact timing of plan sealing. In some instances timing/trigger points can be negotiated to on-maintenance rather than at plan sealing. Likewise, if there is any ambiguity in the interpretation of plan sealing conditions we have worked with Authorities to seek early clarification in writing. Quite often the officer assessing the plan sealing application is not the same officer who set the conditions or issued the approvals. By having clear interpretation confirmed in writing, this overcomes the ambiguity and the unnecessary delays that ensue from RFI’s.
While the above is by no means a full coverage of the plan sealing process, we see that they are well worth considering given the potential to save weeks in the plan sealing process.
If you would like to learn more about the specific examples and how they may apply to your project, please do not hesitate to reach out to our team.