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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

Nod nod, wink wink. DAs say no more, nudge nudge

The Beagle Editor, I have been reading about the ongoing saga of Mr. and Mrs. McBride’s problems as a result of their neighbour siting their new home too close to the McBride’s existing home and, apparently, in conflict of the council’s own requirements of their DCP. Heightening the McBride’s anguish has been the lack of communication and/or concern by the council’s planning department.

Having been a licensed builder/designer in the Eurobodalla over the last 35 years and a previous President of the Master Builders Association for the Southern Region, perhaps I can help shed some light on council’s planning department processes to, hopefully, better understand the situation.

The first thing to understand is what the Eurobodalla Shire Council’s DCP is actually about. To the planning department DCP stands for Development for Common People. This is development at the lowest level of council concern.

There are many different ways to get approval for things in the Eurobodalla and Development for Common People is the hardest and most torturous way to get an approval. It means you don’t know much about getting an approval in the Eurobodalla, you’re not using council-friendly designers and/or consultants, you don’t have any personal friends in council and you are not council staff. Using the DCP means you must comply with any council directive (whether pertinent or not), you must make whatever changes council demands of your development proposal (whether necessary or not) and that you must wait patiently for council to get around to assessing your proposal regardless of when you submitted it. And if your development requires variations to the DCP, then you could be waiting anything from a few months to years to get approval.

So what are your other options?

Well the best option is to be on the inside in the planning department. It is understood that one of the planners was able to get his plans, including variations, approved in 28 calendar days and no questions asked. Some of those variations approved would take common people months, sometimes years.

But you aren't on the inside running, so what other options are there?

The next best option is to be general council staff and the higher up the better. Of course you won’t get an approval for a development with variations in 28 calendar days like one did, but you can expect somewhere around the 28 working days as a guide, sometimes a little bit longer, but not often.

But not everyone who wants to build in the Eurobodalla has a job on the council. Most are just like you and I. Good citizens just wanting to build and looking at the rules and regulations to define what we can, and can't do. Take for instance the case where the DCP says a building MUST be a minimum of 12m off the boundary. You respect the word MUST and comply. But there are ways to get around this. All you have to do is find one variation in your neighbourhood and you have a "precedent" that enables open slather to ignore the MUST rule. But how does the average person know of all the other DA applications to see what variations have been allowed?

The best option is to use a council-friendly designer. These are usually well known in council and you can ask them….off the record of course. They can help you with, not only who to see, but who to avoid, if you want to get your approval in a timely manner. Some designers get variations from council while others…..not so much.

Some of these council-friendly designers have ex-council staff to ensure their stuff gets through with a minimum of stuffing around. It certainly wouldn’t be a liability having former council staff on staff when it comes to dealing with council staff. Particularly if your development requires a variation or two or three.

And if they aren’t fortunate enough to employ a former council staff, then they most assuredly know former council staff who are consultants to council or former councillors who can lobby council staff on your behalf.

There are even designers with no qualifications in house design (apart from a computer assisted design or CAD program) who can get you a DA approval……with variations. In the Eurobodalla it seems the benefits you can bring for council are more important than ability, qualifications or track record. Or as they say in the classics…’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

The most important thing of note is that the council’s planning department is above scrutiny. There is no review or appeal mechanism regarding council’s planning department decisions or actions and the new NSW Planning Portal system of submitting DA’s makes any scrutiny of the council’s planning department almost impossible. There is the Eurobodalla Council's Public Access system, but, as you can see, it takes a while, has little to no effect and, invariably, the councillors take advice from council staff, because, maybe, they don’t have any choice. As our new lord mayor stated on national television when asked about his mayoral powers....“I guess that’s quite limited at times… more of a mouthpiece really than anything else.”

When you need former councillors and ex planning staff to get your DA approved, the problem becomes an ethical one of needing to know who you need to know rather than a technical one. However you look at it….it’s a corruption of the system……and Mr. and Mrs. McBride?….that’s one hell of a variation your neighbours got… must be wondering how they got it…..anyone asked? Michael Johnson Tuross Head


NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

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