One of the first questions new clients ask when I attend a site inspection is what do we need to do to comply and is there a need to run the project through council?
I really understand this question because I think it’s one of those grey areas in building. A better way to describe it, is that it’s one of those confusing areas.
HERE ARE THREE ITEMS TO CONSIDER:
Most office fitout work is of a non-structural kind. Rarely do we remove or install load-bearing walls or build anything of a truly structural nature.
Typically any kind of council certification process will delay the commencement of a project as there needs to be time allowed to put in place the necessary advice to council, and then gain approvals to proceed.
At a minimum the council process will add $5,000 to your bottom line budget.
FIVE SCENARIOS WHERE YOU SHOULD SEEK APPROVAL:
To ensure your new premises are constructed to meet the Buidling Code of Australia (BCA) and Access to Premises Building Standards and Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
It’s probably company policy.
Your insurance and finance company will insist.
To avoid claims later by employees or clients for not providing facilities to BCA or the Disability Discrimination Act.
If your landlord tells you that you must.
SO SHOULD YOU SEEK APPROVAL?
It’s one of those common sense questions and depends upon which of the elements listed above apply to your circumstances. I have seen a swing in the last three years to gaining compliance more often than not and it’s now almost an expected part of the process.
SO HOW DO YOU GET A COMPLIANT OFFICE FITOUT?
There are two typical processes to follow:
Compliance under standard council application for Development Application (DA), followed by Construction Certificate (CC)
Compliance by Compliant Development Certificate (CDC) followed by Occupation Certificate (OC)
Process Number 1 is where you submit a DA to council and there may be many reasons for doing so. For example:
You are moving into brand new premises and are the first tenant in that space. Council need to know what type of business you are setting up and whether it complies with the council ’s Development Control Procedures (DCP).
You are moving your business into an older building, however it’s not the same type of business that was operating from that premises before. Council want to know what type of business you are operating and therefore whether the area is zoned for it. For example, an accountant used to occupy the premises but you are proposing a veterinary surgery there.
Process Number 2 is more straightforward, and always the faster processing option as long as the premises and your business match up.
SECTION 149 CERTIFICATE
What do I mean? The premises will have been registered with council at some point. You can source from council a Section 149 certificate that states the local council ’s allowances for business trading from that particular address. If your business is clarified under the Section 149 certificate there will not be any problems with processing your building plans via a CDC application. A Section 149 certificate will cost you about $60 from your local council.
This means that you can engage a Private Certifying Authority (PCA) to work on your behalf. A PCA’s role is basically to report to the council the details of the project and also authorise the works under their guidance for and on behalf of the council. It is the PCA’s role to ensure all the elements of construction at your new premises are undertaken in accordance with the BCA Building Code of Australia and all the other necessary codes, and in particular codes relating to disabled access within the work environment.
On completion of works and inspection of the same, the PCA will then provide a certificate of occupancy, allowing the new tenant to fully occupy the premises and commence trading.
THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
The PCA (and to a lesser extent the council) will need detailed drawings for the approval process defining the specific works to be undertaken. Typically they will need:
Floor plan – defining the construction area and rooms to be built, including all doorways, path of egress out of building and must also show fire escapes.
Service drawings showing fire services, air conditioning services, emergency and exit signs, plumbing services.
Finishes plan defining floor coverings and tiled areas.
Signage and paint colours.
PCA needs all the relevant information so that they can define whether your proposal will meet the standards required. Without good documentation they cannot do this, which is why they insist on it.
THE PCA IS RESPONSIBLE
Once a PCA signs off your building for occupation, they are basically saying that the building at that point in time complies with Australian building standards and all relevant codes. Should something not actually meet the codes and standards, then the PCA is liable because they have signed off on it. This is why you will find they are very precise and require exact information before processing any application.
You must understand that the PCA has strict standards that they must abide by in everything they do. Otherwise they face restrictions in trading or can be barred completely from carrying out their business.
It’s not possible to start demolition or construction on-site until the PCA has inspected the premises. They need a minimum notice of two days in order to visit the site and provide the CDC to commence work. Failing to provide this time to the certifier may result in non-compliance and they will be unable to provide the certification you need to occupy the premises.
Fee structures for PCA services will differ depending on the size of the project. In my experience most fee structures for PCA services are much the same from each provider. They don’t differ significantly from company to company.
PRO TIP: Council fees and long service levy payments do not form a part of the PCA fees for service and will always be charged as an additional cost.
The approval process will differ in each state of Australia - the information above is New South Wales (NSW) law. Before proceeding always check with the local council in the state you are proposing to build in. Ensure that any consultants you engage are also licensed and insured to perform work in the same state that you are building in.
Your building will likely need council approval.
The two most common forms of council approval are standard Council DA or Compliance by CDC.
CDC is the most straightforward and is provided by a Private Certifying Authority.
A private certifiing authority will require full details of your project.