One house, one approval

To construct a single dwelling on a block should only require one approval. It’s time to shake up planning restrictions across the country.


Mike Hermon
It has been the long-held position of HIA that once land is zoned for residential purposes there should be no further planning constraints to the construction of a single dwelling. 

Essentially, one house on a block of residential land should only need one approval to be built. 
HIA’s ‘Truth in Zoning’ philosophy calls on governments, state and local, to ensure that when land is zoned and subdivided for housing, all the real or potential restrictions for home building have been resolved. Getting that right should mean a new home on a new block only has to address constraints that impact the way it is built, such as a slope or bushfire hazard. 

While the process to obtain approval for a new home differs across the country, the concern from HIA members universally is: why do I need two approvals – planning and building? 
A good question. Where the land is zoned for a house, and where the house is designed to meet the state or local residential design code, what is the value in requiring two approvals? 

This practice most commonly arises when a house is allowed without a planning approval, but the planning scheme draws in additional requirements or limitations that trigger the need for a planning assessment. Most commonly, these will be overlays and additional planning matters, such as heritage, scenic or vegetation protection, local character, and the like. In one mind-boggling case, a HIA member in Queensland shared with us that an inner-Brisbane site was affected by more than 30 planning overlays. 

What’s the problem with two approvals? 

Being required to obtain both planning and building approval creates issues for the timeliness of housing approvals, as well as additional design and application costs. Often, there are even undue impacts on the dwelling design, which require owners to make changes over and above the design code. 

The owner, builder or developer is generally obligated to provide duplicate information, leading to unnecessarily protracted approvals timeframes and a negative impact on housing affordability. 

HIA is acutely aware of the negative impact two approvals has on the industry and the home buyer. 

While each jurisdiction should be able to establish their own regulatory systems, HIA believes that each one should be underpinned by a common principle: to construct one house on one block should only require one approval. 

Over the coming months, HIA will be working to find ways to tackle this issue head on – calling on all levels of government to commit to achieving this goal.

How far do we have to go? 

Given there are multiple reasons why construction of a single dwelling may require planning and building approval, HIA’s approach will need to be tailored to suit the existing systems in each state and territory. 


There is a range of problems that need solving, meaning there will be a range of solutions to bring forward. Currently two approvals may be triggered by: 
  • restrictions in the residential zoning requirements that mandate planning approval 
  • additional restrictions in planning schemes that apply overlays or requirements that trigger planning approval 
  • restrictions in local policies or codes that trigger planning approval 
  • onerous or excessive design requirements in state or local housing codes that trigger planning approval 
  • and in some cases, a planning and building system that is linked in such a way that building approval cannot operate without a planning approval.
Of the various approval pathways in each state and territory some are more burdensome than others. 
While no jurisdiction can be held up as having the ideal approval system for a single dwelling on residential land, NSW does tick the box today. It took more than a decade of hard work to make it so, but the effort has paid off, with more than 30 per cent of new homes now taking advantage of the 20-day complying development approval process. A figure that was as low as 10 per cent a decade ago. 


In NSW, despite having a combined planning and building system like South Australia and Queensland, the use of complying development offers a single approval pathway for specified developments. Complying development is desirable in terms of offering a streamlined approvals system, however, the provisions can be unduly harsh under local planning instruments when compared to the state planning codes, which can limit the ability for a homeowner or builder to use this option. 


Other jurisdictions, such as Western Australia and Victoria, do have provisions in their planning systems that supposedly create a simplified pathway for the construction of a single dwelling. However, in the past decade, these provisions have come under pressure and are now seldom able to be broadly utilised, making them of limited benefit. 


It should be a reasonable expectation for home buyers and builders that the construction of a new single dwelling on residential land can proceed with minimal planning intervention. Only in exceptional circumstances should planning be triggered and when it is, the requirements should be supported by clear standards and outcomes that need to be assessed prior to approval being granted. Overlays and local policies that simply trigger a planning check ‘to be sure’ should have no place. 

Creating a new normal 

One House One Approval needs to be the new normal. 

HIA will be focusing on achieving this outcome and working with state and territory governments to support this approach. Local governments also need to be on board and commit to developing appropriate housing codes that allow the majority, rather than the minority, of homes to comply. 

HIA’s Strategic Policy Plan 2016–2020, 2019 Federal Election imperatives, various state election imperatives, and most recently, the HIA Home Building Recovery Plan for COVID-19 have all called for this reform. 

The beauty of HIA’s approach is that every state and territory already has the pathway we need – one approval is already a possibility. The key now is to trigger the interest and the political will to use it.

Not an HIA member yet? By joining Australia’s largest national association for the residential building industry, you’ll get access to a range of member benefits, as well as industry products and business services designed to help you manage, operate and grow.

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