• Gaby Millner

When am I required to submit building plans to council?

Updated: Sep 20, 2019

Most people are aware that they need to have building plans approved by their local municipal authorities before they can commence any major building work, however, few realise that this requirement extends to many minor alterations as well. So how do you know if you require prior council approval before being able to commence work on site?

In order to better understand when planning approval is required, it is useful to understand why it is required.

The planning approval process is intended to protect the appearance and functionality of our cities on both a micro and macro level. On a larger scale, building plan approval guides development, ensuring it is in keeping with the city’s natural, built and socio-economic plans. For example, there will be restrictions on the number of building types and sizes that are permitted on land zoned for agricultural use in order to protect our city’s food producing resources. While this makes sense to most people, it may seem silly to you that you also require permission to install a wendy house or to enlarge your bathroom window. The bottom line is, that while unlikely, these additions could impact on both your, or the public’s health and safety. The planning approval process aims to assess the risks in line with the development guidelines.

To use the bathroom window as an example:

By substantially enlarging the size of the window, you may increase the risk of a fire spreading between your and the adjacent property based on their close proximity and the poor performance of glazing as a fire barrier. If the glass is increased above a certain size or height above the floor level, you may be required to install safety glazing. If you chose to fit fixed glazing without an openable portion, you will also be required to mechanically extract the bathroom. The intention of the approval process is not to prevent you from making the window bigger, but rather to check that any accompanying precautions are met.

So how do you know if the minor building work you are planning requires approval?

Planning approval is likely to be required for any of the following:

  • Change of use (e.g. converting a house into a shop, or a garage into a bedroom). This applies even if you are not physically changing the appearance of the building.

  • Changes that will affect the appearance of the property from the street

  • Extensions or additions of any covered areas on your property- be they enclosed or not.

  • Addition of a swimming pool

  • Addition of temporary structures (like a wendy house or garden shed) that are larger than 3m²

  • Any renovation that adds new elements to a fundamental aspect of the building or property – for example: a new roofing material, or a removal of a wall that may change the building’s structure. This is particularly important in areas of high heritage or historical value as the permission process will also ensure that the visual appropriateness of any changes.

  • Boundary walls. The erection of any temporary building being used for construction purposes– like a builder’s hut

The good news is that most of the above changes will qualify for submission as “Minor works”. This “lite” approval process differs from a full building plan submission in that it is not required to pass through as many internal departments and is thus, generally, a much quicker process.

While most building work requires planning permission, there are a few exceptions: The following may be installed/undertaken without prior approval:

  • Repairs or replacement of existing features (e.g. new roof tiles to an existing, but damaged, tile roof)

  • Internal upgrading of finishes. You are permitted to replace ceilings, floor finishes, built in cupboards, appliances and any bathroom fittings. You may also change positions of the fittings within the room, provided the work does not necessitate any new plumbing. However, relocation of a bathroom, or addition of a new bathroom inside of an existing structure would require approval as this would be considered a layout change.

  • Replacement of windows or doors is permitted provided the existing frames aren’t load bearing, and that the opening sizes aren’t enlarged.

  • Construction of built-in-braais without a chimney

  • Garden sheds of less than 3 m².

If you are still unsure of whether you require planning approval or not, it is best to approach an adviser at your local municipal building office for clarification. The onus falls on the owner to ensure compliance so it helps to be sure of your facts. If you are caught building without approved documentation, you risk being fined, having your project stalled or being forced to return the property back to its original state.

As always, there is huge benefit working with a qualified building design professional, such as Gaby Millner Architecture, who will be familiar with the regulations and be able to advise and guide you accordingly.


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