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When embarking on a renovation or construction project, obtaining the necessary council approvals is often the first step once you have your Architect and design in place. Understanding the intricacies of Development Application (DA) and Complying Development Certificate (CDC) processes is essential for a successful project. In this blog post, we will explore these approvals in-depth, including their requirements and processes to help you find the information you need. Naturally each project is individual and will largely depend what area and zone you are in – different rules apply to Heritage areas than to Foreshore Protection areas or depending on whether your building is listed or not. However, this blog post should give you an idea of which options may be available to you.

In order to understand the below post best, head out to our post titled “A guide to each stage of an architectural project” to familiarise yourself with the process of developing your dream house.


Guide to acronyms used in this post

CC Construction certificate

DCP Development Control Plans (your council guidelines)

LEP Local Environmental Plan (NSW legislation)


Development Application (DA):

Each local council establishes its own set of requirements for Development Applications. Generally, the list of requirements is similar across most councils in NSW and often will not change in relation to the scale of the project. This means that a DA application for a granny flat will often require the same drawings as a 5-bedroom, 3 storey detached house. Some of the requirements include submitting reports and drawings that adhere to the council’s specific formatting, presentation, and colour preferences. It’s important to distinguish here between LEP rules and DCP guidelines, the former being more exact in instruction such as height and setbacks with the latter (DCP) potentially giving council departments and your planner room to assess case by case.

Once the application is submitted to the council it can take anything between 2 to 12+ months for a residential project to be determined. The application is subject to the council’s Assessment Officer’s interpretation of the planning policies or guidelines., especially in merit-based assessment zones such as Heritage conservation areas. It is worth noting that local residents are able to make objections to a DA application, which can lead to further delays.

On the flip side, generally you are allowed to ask for more when taking the DA route. This means that when you break any or some of the policy requirements you may still have the DA approved as long as you can provide a strong enough argument as to why the rule is broken. This would be done through a Clause 4.6 objection In this case, if your design and requirements do not meet the council guidelines, you may still be able to get the design approved under DA.

Once the DA is approved you will then need to obtain a Construction Certificate (CC) to start the development. The information for the CC will be outlined by the Certifier appointed for the job but will typically include detailed Engineering, Stormwater, landscape plans etc.

Complying Development Certificate (CDC):

Complying Development Certificates offer certain advantages by streamlining the approval process. Unlike Development Applications, CDCs do not typically require reports such as the Statement of Environmental Effects or shadow diagrams. However you will still need to submit your typical site plans (existing and proposed), elevations, sections as well as (typically) calculations, construction methodology or stormwater. This in turn will streamline the post approval process as some of the information for CDC can be used in the Documentation Phase. It is important to note that the CDC route eliminates the CC stage of the process, as broken down in the table below.

The biggest advantage of CDC is that it does not get assessed subjectively like a DA application. The certifier only assesses whether the proposal is within the CDC requirements. Furthermore, the application will not be affected by neighbour’s objections, public opinion or the Certifier’s personal view on the design. Due to the process being mostly a box ticking exercise, the approval process can sometimes take less than a week, which is drastically faster than a DA. The CDC process is also more streamlined as the application will have the engineering, stormwater etc already included, therefore once approved you can start building almost straight away.

CDC however is not the perfect solution as it often cannot be applied for or is limited in protected areas such as Heritage, bushfire, or Foreshore areas. As mentioned above, you also cannot break any rules or the application will be rejected – there is not much opportunity to argue for a particular breach of a rule, which you can do in DA.

Navigating the Approval Process:

It may be difficult to decide which route to take – DA or CDC ? The answer that we give most often is – go with both. Taking a two-pronged approach can often achieve the best results. Experienced Architects, or town planners who are well-versed in dealing with local councils can guide you through the approval process. Given the complexities involved in the approvals, it is highly recommended to seek assistance of a professional. They will ensure that all necessary documentation is accurately prepared and aligns with the council’s or Certifier’s expectations. By leveraging their expertise, you can streamline the process, saving time and avoiding potential costly mistakes.


Council approvals are a crucial aspect of any successful renovation or construction project. Understanding the distinctions between Development Applications (DAs) and Complying Development Certificates (CDCs) is key to navigating the process smoothly.

The biggest difference between a CDC application and a DA application is that the DA application is subject to the council’s Assessment Officer’s interpretation of the planning policies or guidelines. especially in merit-based assessment guidelines in zones such as Heritage conservation areas. A CDC application can be determined within a week or two and does not rely on opinion or subjective merit-based assessment, unlike a DA application.

Familiarise yourself with your local council’s specific requirements, including the necessary reports, drawings, and documentation. If needed, seek professional assistance to ensure a seamless and efficient approval process. By incorporating these guidelines and employing the right resources, you can progress through the approvals stage confidently, bringing your renovation or construction dreams closer to reality.



If you’re planning to build a new home, renovate an existing one, or renovate a heritage building in Sydney, you’ll need the expertise of a skilled architect to ensure the success of your project and to guide you through each stage. If you need help deciding how to pick an architect, you can read our other blog post “Starting your journey”.

In this post, we’ll walk you through each step after engaging an architect, discussing what to expect at each milestone of the design and construction process.


Sketch Design (SD)

Prior to embarking on this stage your architect will ask you for a boundary survey so they can work to the parameters of the site. If you do not have one yet – it is no problem, this can come in the next stage. During the sketch design stage, your architect will use their design skills and expertise to draw up initial concepts for your and ideas for your building. This may include floor plans, elevations, and other sketches that will help you visualise your house design. Your architect will be working off your renovation budget, your brief and the limitations of the site.

We generally would allow 3 – 4 weeks for SD in the lead up to our first design meeting and after a chat and a design session together, about another 3 – 4 weeks for DD – Design Development.


Design Development (DD)

Once you’ve approved the initial sketches, your architect will move on to the design development phase. Here, they’ll take your feedback and refine the concepts, creating a more detailed plan. Your architect will also liaise with engineers, builders, and other professionals to ensure that the design is feasible and meets all necessary regulations and standards and is in line with your renovation cost. Design Development (DD) is something that can be really short or more organic depending on many outside influences and ideas.

Pinterest boards and mood boards help speed this phase up, but it really comes down to the scope of works being locked down, and influences / precedents being controlled and applied.


Approvals Stage (DA / CDC)

The next stage is the approvals stage, where your architect will submit the plans for approval for your This may include a Development Application to council or a development certificate from a certifier. During this stage, your architect will ensure that all documents and applications are completed accurately and efficiently, helping to speed up the process and avoid unnecessary delays. If we are working with the Council towards a Development Application, here it is hard to predict how long the stage will take. It can be 6-8 months or more. Whether it is large modernist house or a second story addition – the Council’s timeline does not hugely differ.


Documentation (DT)

Once approved, this is where an architects begins to add the level of detail for all the various trades to build the building. This includes adding in construction methodologies such as engineering, detailing things like junctions, lighting, electrical layouts, joinery drawings, schedules and specifications of fixtures and finishes. We can do it all, together with mood boards, samples, images.

This is the biggest part of what an architect does, it’s essentially the detailed instruction manual on how to build your house and what with and usually comes in around 5% of the cost of works. Without this, the chances of the cost of works blowing out over 5% is inevitable.

This is especially given there are areas where this package can easily save more than 5% of the cost of works just by the research, sourcing, instructions, set outs, specifications and detailed directions that go into this set. Unless you are a builder, without this set – it’s not so much a risk as it is a certainty you will use your 15% contingency of the cost of works.

The issue here for the client is that without the technical resource explaining the detailed intention, the instruction manual if you will – there is no recourse on rectifications if the builder or trade made the wrong assumption. Everyone and no one is at fault at this point so it generally just falls on the client to pay for the variation.

Leaving out the comprehensive instruction manual of the entire project to save 5% may be a very costly mistake.


Construction Certificate (CC)

This phase requires the architect to work usually with a private certifier to demonstrate the DA documents comply with the various codes, standards and guidelines set by both the Building Industry and the council’s conditions issued in the DA determination. This includes BCA standards, BASIX, various eco and efficiency specifications required for lighting, water flow, heat gain/loss thermal requirements, stormwater solutions etc. a lot of these will come standard in DA conditions. The majority of the drawings produced in the DT stage will cover off the requirements of the CC.


Contract Administration (CA)

With the CC issued, the final phase is where the architects helps with building what has been designed, documented and tendered. Architectural services include not only project managing the build but various roles in ensuring build quality, progress reporting, administering the contract and overseeing design changes and problem-solving throughout the build as required.


In conclusion, each stage is essential to ensure the success of your building project. By working with a skilled and experienced architect, builder and any other consultant you can rest assured that your project will be completed on time, within budget, and to your exact specifications.




Starting a new build or a renovation project can be overwhelming and difficult to begin. Finding the right professionals who will make you feel safe and comfortable throughout the whole process is crucial to the success of your project. From establishing your renovation budget to understanding each design stage, dealing with consultants to seeing your project through construction – you want to feel listened to and that you are in safe hands.

An architect can help you create a vision for your space and turn that vision into a reality. If you decide to onboard and Architect to take you through your home renovation, below is a list of things you need to know:


  1. Define your brief

The first thing you need to do when starting a home renovation with an architect is to define your design brief and you. An architect will discuss your goals, your renovation budget and what you hoping to achieve with your project. Are you looking to create a modern home? Do you have a property in a heritage area you want to remodel in a tasteful way? Perhaps you are looking at a new kitchen design? Are you worried about your home renovation costs? By defining your brief, you can help your architect create a design that meets your needs.


  1. Find an Architect you feel comfortable with

The next step is to not just find an architect, but an architect you feel comfortable with. Remember you will be embarking on a journey that can last some time. Ask for recommendations from friends who have done a home renovation themselves or search online for architects in your area. Whether you are looking for architects specialising in contemporary house designs, small house interiors or heritage renovations, make sure to interview them to see if their design style and their character aligns with your own and if you feel comfortable working with them.


  1. Prepare Your Budget

Before you embark on the journey, it’s important to prepare your building budget. Be realistic about how much you can afford to spend and make sure to factor in all external costs, including architect fees, consultants, Council fees and allow for approximately 15% contingency. Your architect will discuss your needs and goals and will help you create a realistic budget and advise you on where to allocate your resources. What is more an architect will help you find ways to minimise costs where possible ensuring your renovation budget goes a long way.


  1. Design your dream home

Once you’ve found an architect and prepared your budget, it’s time to work with them to turn your brief into reality. Typically the design process is broken down into sketch design and design development before it is prepared to be sent to the Council or Certifier. You and your architect will go through multiple options to arrive at the design you want. Be open to their suggestions and expect collaboration throughout the process, remember this is the fun part of the process ! Once the design is finalised, your architect will create detailed plans and specifications that will form documentation for approvals.


  1. Work with Contractors

Once you have obtained the approvals for your house design, your architect will provide recommendations for contractors and will oversee the construction process to ensure it meets your needs and expectations. They will guide you through your renovation budget versus construction costs, help resolve unforeseen on -site issues and be there to answer any of your questions. During construction the architect acts as a mitigator between the consultants, the builder and the client. They will translate the construction jargon into easily digestible actions. You can choose to work closely with your architect and contractors throughout the renovation or allow the project to roll on with minimum input from you – it is totally up to you.


Starting a design project with an architect can be an exciting and rewarding process. By defining your brief, finding the right architect, preparing your renovation budget, collaborating on the design, and working with contractors, you can create the home of your dreams.