Property development guide part 12 — Enlisting the help of a town planning consultant

In this article, Bryce Yardney, Property Development Specialist at Metropole Projects, explains the role of a town planning consultant and what you need to be asking yours. 

Town planning consultants are professionals with a qualification in town planning or urban planning. 

Those in private practice have usually been employed by local councils or planning organisations for a number of years, meaning they know the process and undrolled up planserstand how it works from the other side of the counter.

If in the past they have worked in the municipality in which you are planning to develop a project, they may also know some of the senior staff at the council as well as the elected councillors.

This can be of great benefit as they should know who is easy to get along with, who is going to be a problem and who is going to require special attention.

A town planning consultant will assist you with your project in the following ways;

1.  Providing feedback during the design process.

I like to get a town planner involved early in the process to view the plans and give an opinion as to their compliance with State government and local council regulations.

By getting involved early in the piece they will save you considerable costs in major redraws of plans and valuable time in assisting the process through the council maze.

2.  Writing the development application

The town planner will try to pre-empt problems by addressing council’s expectations right from the start.

They will ensure that you lodge all the necessary documentation, including a ResCode  report that they produce to comply with Victorian planning regulations.

In other states they’ll produce something like a statement of environmental impacts.

3.  Handling further council requests and objections

While I prefer to tackle this role myself, I know some developers who choose to make their town planner the central point for all correspondence with council, its planning officers and any objectors.  

how to get started in property development

Council always requests further information and your town planner can prepare appropriate responses and advise the architect how to redraft plans accordingly where required.

If there are objections, your town planner can prepare appropriate responses and become your advocate, arguing the case for your project.

Some councils hold mediation meetings with objectors, the developer and council officers to try to find an acceptable solution to objectors’ concerns and in this instance, the town planner may agree to represent you.

With their in-depth knowledge of planning legislation and the rights of objectors and yourself as the applicant for the permit, they can handle the case efficiently and objectively on your behalf.

4.  Handling your case in the appeals court

If your development hits a snag and ends up in the appeals court (in Victoria called VCAT and in NSW the Land and Environment Court), your planning consultant will become your expert witness and an invaluable ally.

What your planning consultant will cost

The planning consultant will work on either an hourly rate or a set fee negotiated in advance.

Usually they require a set fee for preparing and lodging the development application, including any written reports as required, which could be in the order of $3,000 depending upon the complexity of your project.

They may then charge an hourly rate to be involved in further negotiations with the council or objectors. Their appearance at a VCAT (court of appeal) hearing will cost you anything from $3,500 to $5,000.

Ten questions you should ask your town planner:

  1. Which local authority/council will make the final decision regarding my proposed project? questionmark house
  2. What is this council’s attitude towards development projects?
  3. What experience do you have with applications to this particular authority?
  4. Do you recommend a pre-application meeting with the council town planners? Why or why not?
  5. Do third parties (including neighbours) have a right to object to our proposal? If so, do you recommend neighbourhood consultation?
  6. How long will the Development Application process take?
  7. Do I have a right of appeal to the council decision?
  8. Do third parties (including neighbours) have a right to appeal the council’s decision?
  9. In the event of an appeal, where are the likely costs?
  10. Will there be a need for additional applications to other authorities and at what cost?

Dealing with Councils

Getting Council approval often requires an enormous amount of time and patience and a diplomatic approach.

Regardless of whether you believe what you are prosing is a simple development that should have no “issues”, it can still take several months to gain approval.

If there are issues with your site, or the neighbours object, the process can become even more drawn out.

I try to resolve any planning issues early in the piece, so we will often have one or a series of pre-application meetings with the council planning officers before we submit our formal application for approval. planning town map council development build construction

Usually the architect is present at these meetings, as well as a town planner for more complicated projects.

It makes sense to try to reduce the time spent on the formal application process and these more informal meetings can certainly address and resolve some issues.

They are usually held while the project is still at the concept stage and input from the council can be taken into consideration before the final plans are drawn.

This is different to the approach that a lot of developers who submit their plans to council take, with the attitude, “I am a developer and this is what I want.”

All this really does is get planners offside from word go and can make the entire process even more of a grind.

I find a better approach is; “This is what I plan to do and this is how it will be of benefit. What do you think of my proposal? Are there any suggestions or improvements you could make?”

The latter standpoint indicates your willingness to listen to the planners and take their ideas on board, rather than fight them tooth and nail throughout the entire ordeal.

Trust me, it is looked upon much more favourably and can make your life as a developer a lot easier.

Dealing with council officers

While many people consider council planning officers to be lazy, difficult people who are anti-development, my experience is that in general they are hard working professionals who are underpaid and understaffed.

They have an unenviable workload and struggle with high levels of pressure from their senior officers and elected council officials. house-floor-plans

If you develop a good relationship with them they can help you quickly navigate your way through the council application maze.

It is important to treat these professionals with the respect they deserve because they hold a lot of power when it comes to your development application.

The key to the entire planning or development approval process is to make it as efficient and straightforward as possible.

Try not to ruffle too many feathers when it comes to dealing with the bureaucrats who can give your project the final seal of approval.

I have seen many developers burn bridges within local authorities and it is only ever to their own detriment and the detriment of their development career.

At all times remain professional, remain objective and most importantly, remain patient and open minded.

In the next article of our small development series, Bryce will take a closer look at how to minimise risk by undertaking a detailed feasibility study.

If you enjoyed reading this article and want to know about working with a Town Planner, check out the article in the Team Series.

If you want to learn more about the property development process you may be interested in How To Get Started in Property Development

You may also be interested in reading our Team Series or check out our graphic guide to the Property Development Process.


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Bryce Yardney


Bryce is a property development specialist, having successfully sourced, project managed and completed hundreds of development projects for Metropole’s clients, helping them create substantial wealth.Visit

'Property development guide part 12 — Enlisting the help of a town planning consultant' have 6 comments


    July 20, 2017 TK

    Hi, we are after to build another house at the rear of the existing house. The consitions to apply are ok. Would you please advise, can we apply for MCUC first, then we apply for reconfiguration later?
    Kind regards,



    June 1, 2017 pino mazza

    my name is pino mazza from 70 bruce st. bell park 3215

    my house is a double store but ground floor is a garage and a man cave only, all living is on first floor
    unforcerly have no drive way to go at back as it is only a walk way space of 2 metres on the left site and 2 metres on the right side
    i have 300 metres of land at the back yard
    house is 7 metres away from the front fence while some of others house along the street are from 2,3 metre away

    5 years ago the geelong council told me that their cannot approve a subdivision because driveway is not wide enough
    BUT because the big distance i have from the front fence to my house may the vcat could approve the subdivision
    by building a carport at front attach to the house and give a walk way property to the buyer of the land or unit at the back.

    hope that with your experience can tell me if its any way possible to do a subdivision.

    pino mazza


      Michael Yardney

      June 2, 2017 Michael Yardney

      Councils have strict rules about subdivision to ensure certain standards of housing and amenity are kept – this benefits you and your neighbours. Clealry your property does not meet those criteria, so VCAT is unlikely to allow a permit to subdivide



    August 30, 2016 Hamish

    Thanks Bryce – having recently used a town planner for a development they are invaluable and reduce the risk of planning permission being denied.

    Zoning is something I am trying to understand – in Victoria GRZ1, NRZ2, RGZ1 all have different limitations and requirements. Do the rules change for each Council, and is there a “cheat sheet” summarising what is possible in each zone? Or do I just hire my town planner for a day to give me a tutorial? It means identifying where development can and can’t occur, and the extent of development, is hard until the zone is understood.


      Bryce Yardney

      August 30, 2016 Bryce Yardney

      Hi Hamish,

      Glad to hear that you got some real value from your Town Planner.

      Zoning rules certainly do change from council to council so it would be dangerous to make any assumptions. You can find some handy resources on the ‘Planning Schemes Online’ website. Unfortunately, these websites will only show you the written policies and you wont find any of the “under the counter” type policies that can be just as important. This is why I believe it’s important to get a team around you that understands both of these types of policies before getting yourself into a development.



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