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Keeping the community happy on planning and development issues

11 Jan 2018

Community members can feel significant angst about development applications.

They may feel unconsulted and dissatisfied about the way decisions are made. This can lead to tensions between the community and the Local Government, and a mistrust of the development application process. So how can you, as a CEO or planning officer, manage the way your organisation deals with planning applications? The key is in effective communication with the community.

Different Advertising Pathways

As planning officers are aware, there are two distinct pathways that determine the advertising process. These two pathways depend on whether the development is residential, or not. This difference is not widely understood by the community.

Local governments must explain these advertising requirements and the extent to which community members are entitled to comment on a development.

The problem is that local government planning officers know how the process works, but their target audience, the community members, do not.

Residential Design Codes (R Codes)

Not all residential developments require advertising. Local governments only need to advertise developments that are ‘against one or more design principles of the R Codes’ and are considered to have ‘a possible impact on the amenity of adjoining owners and occupiers’.

When this occurs, the local government contacts those adjoining owners and occupiers by letter, and gives them the option of making a submission about the proposed development. The local government does not send this invitation letter to all community members, only those that it believes the development will impact.

A problem arises when those community members who did not receive this invitation letter feel overlooked, because they believe they will be affected by the development. They may feel that the local government has erred by not informing them of the development.

Local Planning Scheme

Planning officers are aware of the advertising requirements for non residential developments, however, most community members are not.

In contrast to the advertising requirements of the R Codes, more community members are likely to be invited to comment on a development application under a Local Planning Scheme.

Those selected include ‘owners and occupiers of properties in the vicinity of the development who, in the opinion of the local government, are likely to be affected by the granting of development approval’.

Local governments often have their own policies on community consultation, which specify the different advertising requirements based on the type and scale of the proposed development.

The policies may set out the radius of the area within which community members are invited to comment, and the length of time they are given to submit responses.

“Effective communication is vital for a good working relationship with community members.”

Ways in which a local government can reduce this confusion

These different advertising requirements are often not widely understood by community members. Explanation via the letters and the local government website can help to disseminate this information as members discuss what’s happening in their community.

Advertising Letters

The advertising letters sent out by your local government invite community members to comment on a development. These letters are also a good vehicle for explaining the consultation process.

The letter should:

  • outline why particular members are sent a letter and why others are not
  • clearly identify the aspects of the development on which community members are invited to comment

Therefore, when community members are discussing the matter among themselves, it should be clear from the letter why some community members have not been asked for comment.

This information may reduce the number of complaints your local government gets from community members who wonder why they have not received a letter.


Your local government website can be a good way of explaining planning and development processes, including the reason why certain community members are being asked to comment, and why others are not.

It is important that any information you post should be in plain English, so that a lay person can easily understand it.


Local government planning officers understand the processes for development applications and they do their job well. However, gaps in communication can leave community members feeling dissatisfied and hostile to the local government. Fortunately, improving this communication is not an extremely difficult task but can significantly help improve the relationship between a local government and the community it serves.


Anthony Quahe

Managing Principal

9200 4900

Disclaimer: This article provides a general summary of subject matter and does not constitute legal advice. The law may change and circumstances may differ. Therefore, you should seek legal advice for your specific circumstances.