— Navigating the Building Approval Process —

Bringing a building project to life requires careful planning and coordination to gain the necessary approvals. Whether constructing a new home, commercial space, or adding to an existing structure, most projects follow a similar development path from initial concept through council consent.

11, Jul
Benjamin Harris

Bringing a building project to life requires careful planning and coordination to gain the necessary approvals. Whether constructing a new home, commercial space, or adding to an existing structure, most projects follow a similar development path from initial concept through council consent.

From Concept to Completion: A Guide to Navigating the Building Approval Process

Understanding the key steps, timeline, and sequence of activities provides valuable insight into what’s required to take a project from vision to reality. This comprehensive guide breaks down the crucial stages in the approval procedure, typical duration, and how the various consultants and authorities collaborate to transform an idea into a finished building.

Overview of the Approval Process

While specific requirements vary across municipalities, the general stages are:

  1. Project Conceptualization
  2. Appointing the Design Team
  3. Schematic Design Phase
  4. Design Development and Documentation
  5. Development Approval
  6. Building and Plumbing Approval
  7. Construction Tender and Award
  8. Construction Administration
  9. Final Inspections and Occupancy

Navigating this multi-faceted process efficiently requires careful planning and execution.

Stage 1: Project Conceptualization

The starting point is clarifying the scope, budget, schedule, and defining characteristics of the intended project.

Key Activities

  • Determine high-level functional requirements, size, and cost parameters
  • Research applicable zoning regulations and building codes
  • Explore preliminary design ideas and architectural styles
  • Identify consultants needed like architects, engineers, surveyors
  • Create an inspirational scrapbook of images, materials, and descriptions

Having a clear written vision to communicate expectations is invaluable for the design process. Sites like Pinterest provide excellent visual tools for gathering ideas.

Stage 2: Appointing the Design Team

The right design professionals must be selected to match the project requirements.

Key Activities

  • Review credentials and portfolios of local architects, building designers, engineers, and other required consultants
  • Contact professional institutes to verify qualifications and licensing
  • Interview shortlisted firms and review examples of similar projects
  • Align on scope of services, deliverables, timeframes, and fees
  • Formalize appointments and execute contracts

Choosing qualified professionals with demonstrated relevant experience lays the foundation for success.

Stage 3: Schematic Design Phase

Early design establishes the overall form, spatial relationships, and character of the project.

Key Activities

  • Site survey and analysis of existing conditions
  • Preliminary floorplans, sections, and elevations
  • Studies of massing options, orientation, and placement
  • Review of zoning allowances and restrictions
  • Initial selection of materials and systems
  • Coordination with engineering consultants
  • Presentation of schematic design options
  • Budget reconciliation and design direction confirmation

This phase creates the big picture vision while assessing feasibility. Multiple schematic options are typically developed before selecting a final direction.

Stage 4: Design Development and Documentation

The chosen schematic design is refined into detailed drawings, plans, and specifications.

Key Activities

  • Finalization of design detailing, dimensions, and equipment selections
  • Creation of comprehensive drawings and technical specifications
  • Incorporation of engineering systems
  • Sustainability evaluations and energy modeling
  • Review of building code compliance
  • Development of interior finishes and furnishings
  • Outline specifications of all materials, components, and assemblies
  • Approval of design development package

Thorough documentation provides the information needed for pricing, permits, and construction.

Stage 5: Development Approval

The governing municipal planning department must grant permission to proceed.

Key Activities

  • Submission of development application with necessary reports and drawings
  • Completion of public notification and review period if required
  • Response to inquiries and objections raised during notification period
  • Review of proposal against zoning codes and land use policies
  • Request for additional information from applicant if needed
  • Planning department approval or refusal

The process ensures compliance with regulations, but can slow progress if issues emerge.

Stage 6: Building and Plumbing Approval

Licenses to build and connect services must also be obtained.

Key Activities

  • Completion of final construction drawings, engineering, specifications
  • Structural certification by engineer
  • Application to water authority for service connections
  • Approval certification by building surveyor
  • Submission of application to council for building and plumbing approval
  • Granting of building and plumbing approval after assessment

With planning and building approvals secured, construction can legally proceed.

Stage 7: Construction Tender and Award

Bids are solicited from general contractors to determine the builder.

Key Considerations

  • Relevant project experience
  • Resources and qualifications
  • Quality assurance procedures
  • Proposed construction schedule
  • Competitive pricing and value
  • Good communication and compatibility

Selecting the right contractor prevents issues during construction.

Stage 8: Construction Administration

The project team provides oversight throughout the building phase.

Key Activities

  • Holding regular site meetings to review progress and address questions
  • Issuing additional drawings and specifications as needed
  • Reviewing product samples, shop drawings, change orders
  • Monitoring compliance with design and building standards
  • Managing quality control and performance testing
  • Processing progress payments and change orders
  • Substantial completion inspection and punch list creation

Diligent administration prevents defects and ensures the design intent is fulfilled.

Stage 9: Final Inspections and Occupancy

The building must pass final reviews before it may be legally occupied.

Key Activities

  • Testing commissioned building systems for proper operation
  • Rectifying outstanding defects and punch list items
  • Final site improvements and landscaping
  • Local authority mandatory inspections and issuance of certificate of occupancy
  • Training owner’s operations and maintenance personnel
  • Transfer of warranties, guarantees, and as-built drawings
  • Settlement of final accounts

Successfully completing this process is a major achievement!

Typical Project Timeline

While timeframes vary based on scope, location, and complexity, a typical progression of milestones is:

Stage Duration
1. Conceptualization 1-2 weeks
2. Appoint Design Team 2-4 weeks
3. Schematic Design 2-6 weeks
4. Design Documentation 6-12 weeks
5. Development Approval 4-8 weeks
6. Building/Plumbing Approval 2-4 weeks*
7. Contractor Award 4-6 weeks
8. Construction Dependent on scope
9. Occupancy 1-2 weeks

*Simultaneous with stages 4-5; total approval phase around 6-12 weeks

Securing approvals before construction generally takes 6 months, with an additional 6-18 months to complete construction depending on scale and complexity. Understanding the time investment helps set realistic schedule expectations when embarking on a building project.

Key Consultants Involved

Each consultant plays a specialized role in bringing the design to reality:

  • Architect - Leads overall building design process
  • Building designer - Provides technical drawing and documentation services
  • Structural engineer - Designs structural framework to support loads
  • Mechanical engineer - Plans HVAC, plumbing, fire protection, and drainage systems
  • Electrical engineer - Designs power, lighting, communications, security, and electronics systems
  • Civil engineer - Analyzes site conditions and plans layout, grading, utilities
  • Landscape architect - Designs exterior spaces, plantings, and hardscapes
  • Contractor - Constructs and manages execution of the project
  • Building surveyor - Reviews plans for code compliance and issues approvals

Close collaboration between the project team is essential for success. Appointing qualified local professionals lays the groundwork for smooth approval and construction.

Navigating the Building Approvals Process with Confidence

By understanding the key steps, timeline, and consultant roles involved in taking a project from concept to completion, owners can plan effectively. Anticipating potential issues and navigating the complex web of approvals requires diligence. While demanding, the reward is seeing your vision transformed into a physical structure. With sound preparation and expert help, the building approval process can be managed efficiently.