How To Piss Off Your Council in 5 Easy Steps
Property Developers are a very diverse bunch, and when you get a group of them together you might think it would be hard to find much else they have in common. But if you want the group to unite as one, usually with a collective groan, all you need to do is mention dealing with local Councils.

Love 'em or hate 'em (and let's face it, Developers tend to hate them!) Councils are a necessary piece of the puzzle, and as a Property Developer you need to find a way to play nice.

And while you can't always prevent problems dealing with your Council, there are 5 basic things that are guaranteed to piss them off, so avoiding those is a good place to start.
Your dealings with Council will fall into two main phases - the pre-approval phase, when you're working towards getting the necessary plans or permits for your development, then during construction.


1. Removing Trees Without a Permit

As Developers, it's far too easy to see trees as nothing but an obstruction to what you want to do. A flat, clear site is certainly the easiest site to build on. I can't argue with that.

But for Councils, who have local residents to answer to, trees are really important, both for their visual aesthetics and the general liveability of the area. The last thing they want is for all those trees to vanish.

In the past, many Developers have taken the route of "remove and pay the fine" when it comes to trees. I've heard plenty of sneaky ways Developers have "gotten around" Council requirements for trees (...I’m sure we’ve all heard the stories!).

The problem is, all those Developers in the past who removed trees without permission really pissed residents and Councils off. The result? Councils are fighting back, making it even harder to remove trees and increasing penalties - even to the point of a recent example where the Council is refusing to issue any development approvals at all to the Developer. That one's still caught up in the legal process, but it shows that Councils are getting tougher with Developers who break the rules. Be warned!
2. Pushing the Limits on Density

Planning rules may be long and boring to read, but they're not rocket science. While some states aren’t always clear about density possibilities (I'm looking at you, Victoria!), if you know the zoning for your site, a call to the Council offices is a quick and easy way to find out what they are.

Now that you know them - you should stick to them! Councils publish their density limits for a zone, and time and again Developers put in development applications that request more density on the site than is allowed. This just wastes the time of the planning department, so don't push it!

3. Lodging Applications that Break the Rules

This goes hand-in-hand with point 2. Again, Councils, on the whole, provide a lot of detail about their requirements. So make sure you meet them! Or at least make sure your Town Planner understands them and incorporates them into their designs. This is why a lot of Developers prefer to use a local Town Planner for their applications, as they have experience dealing with both the written and "unwritten" rules of the local Council and can therefore ensure your application complies.

As part of this, take the time to read Council's requirements in detail. As Developers, it's very easy to only focus on how many lots or dwellings we can squeeze out of a block by doing some basic maths. But Councils throw in further requirements like distances from the boundary, private open space, overlooking restrictions, and more. So do the research and abide by the rules and you won’t piss off the Council.

4. Not Engaging with the Community

This one is probably more applicable to larger developments, but is still worth mentioning. Councils are elected by local people. So if you're about to do something that the local people don't like, it's the Council’s collective backsides which are going to get kicked.

This puts the Council in a difficult position. Even if they agree your development is good for the community in terms of improving housing availability in the area, they're answerable to the local residents. The last thing they want is to be put in the position of having to justify the development. In fact, some Councils will automatically say no to anything that might be seen as controversial, preferring to take it through to the State review authority and then be able to point the finger at them when their refusal is overturned.

This means they're very keen for you, the Developer, to be the one engaging with the local community about your proposed development. If you don't, then you put them somewhere between a rock and a hard place, which really pisses them off.

Now, I can fully understand that the idea of fronting a community meeting about a proposed development may not exactly have you throwing your hands in the air and saying Woohoo!! In fact, you may be tempted to run for the hills instead of displaying yourself as a public punching bag. But doing it, preferably as early as possible, will certainly score you brownie points with the Council.

Side bonus - by taking the time to engage with the community, you may actually help them understand the benefit of your development and remove any further opposition. A Developer can dream, right?!

You made it through the development approval process, and have probably had a welcome break from dealing with the local Council. But now that the time has come to start work on your development site, you're about to bump into them again - which inevitably means you run the risk of pissing them off, again.

In this phase, it's not actually the Council directly that you need to worry about - it's your neighbours. If what you do on the site pisses off your neighbours, then guess what they do? They go and complain to the Council. So the key to this fifth point is to keep your neighbours happy, rather than Council directly.
You'll probably find that a lot of the things you need to do are already outlined by the Council, so that's a good place to start. And let's be fair here - even if you do everything right, there are some neighbours who are still going to complain. Still, it's better to start on the front foot and do your best to comply with requirements to minimise the risk of complaints being made.

Chances are your builder is already familiar with all the requirements, so make sure you review them together. Here's the major ones that you will most likely need to comply with:

  • safety fences and signs
  • work hours on the site
  • silt fencing
  • dust control

Visit the site regularly to see how well the Builder is complying. One sure sign that a complaint will soon be winging its way to Council is if work has finished for the day but there is mud and other debris washing down the driveway of the site onto the road. Sometimes it's worth having a good outdoor broom in your car's boot so you can clean it up ASAP! Check fencing is intact and not sagging, piles of dirt are covered, and everything is securely locked up for the night. If the site is consistently left in a poor state, raise it with the Builder.

BONUS!! - 6. Not building what the Council Approved

This one really doesn’t need any explanation (surely!). Rest assured, if you don’t build what the Council approved for your development, then they are NOT going to be happy with you.

Bottom line is, working with Councils is already tricky, and the last thing you need in that situation is to be dealing with a Council employee who's pissed off with you and more inclined to be obstructive rather than helpful. So use these tips to help eliminate the most common ways Developers piss off their local Council.

And remember, as the old saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar!
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