Refusal May Offend
or a litany of Development Application offences…
I have on occasions patronised a shop that (questionably) humorously displays a sign behind its counter stating:
“Please do not ask for credit as refusal may offend”
I have on many occasions had pause to think that perhaps certain local councils should have a similar sign up in their so called customer service centres:
“Please do not lodge a Development Application as refusal may offend.”
Alternatively, they could bastardise Shakespeare
“How do I refuse thee, let me count the ways…”
Unless your proposed Development Application (DA) is located on Sydney Harbour at the western fringe of the city, it can sometimes seem like it is a battle to get any proposed building work approved. Let us go through some of the ways of refusal…
The Box Tickers
We love ticking boxes, there’s such satisfaction and joy in the triumphant upward flick of the wrist. It may surprise, however, that there are contrarians who receive far greater satisfaction from the deeply aggressive scribing of cross upon box. I suspect a satisfaction only surpassed by the aggressive whump of rubber permanently branding ”Refused” on the page. Council’s technocrat (or Planner by another word) loves a ticked box. Beware, one that is graven with cross grants malicious, albeit innocent, pleasure… REFUSED.
The Bits Council Controls Don’t Reach or No Box to Tick
When other avenues fail, they may use slippery words to obfuscate, like compatible, streetscape and character, in any order, separately, together, you tell me? Google suggests 800 000 results. Street View? Incompatible. REFUSED.
The Brown Paper Bag
(in honour of the current goings on at ICAC)
Yet another box to tick I’m afraid: Has a stuffed brown paper bag been supplied? No? REFUSED.
Failure to Agree
This goes without saying… REFU (wait, let me tell you a story)
We designed a project in a Heritage Conservation area, for which a Heritage Impact Statement is required for the DA. Our client, already not overly impressed he had to fork out a few grand for the Statement, was left gobsmacked (read supremely pissed-off), when Council disregarded it. He called the assessing planner, it went something like this:
Client: Why pay no regard to the Heritage Impact Statement, supporting our proposal?
Planner: Because you can ask them to write anything in support of your proposal.
Client: So why the f*#? have I paid thousands of dollars for something you required but are going to ignore anyway?
It’s a fair point… but still… REFUSED.
There’s any number of acronyms for the challenging neighbour: NIMBYs, BANANAs, NIMFYEs, CAVEmen, NIABYs, NIMFOs, NOTEs, NASTYs (actually that’s not one but they’re definitely out there)… I’ll leave it for you to look up what they all mean.
…you’ve managed to tick all the boxes, to be now confronted by the mobilised neighbourhood forces. Letters of objection flood Council, Councillor’s phones ring off the charger, everyone at Council starts to get nervous and sweaty, despite a modest and fully compliant DA proposition. No matter how inane the objections, Council oftentimes seem to give neighbours objections far more weight than they deserve. Here’s a very small representative excerpt from one of our favourite letters of objection, not so much for it’s inanity but for the relentlessness of it’s insults and 45 page breadth covering all manner of gripes to Council beyond the subject at hand:
“There is no mention of birds, weeds, or wildlife in the report – the office boy obviously wasn’t requested to include these important environmental problems in his report.”
He went on to show some concern for stray cats too, but was comfortable in the knowledge they would probably find their way. Happily this DA was approved, despite our office boy’s failure to follow instruction.
Politically gutless, Council accede to the maddening crowd, let the courts decide they cry… REFUSED. (see you in court!)
In our fine democratic system (thanks ICAC), Local Politics may be understood as a corollary of Neighbours (as above). The NIMTOOs (I’ll give you that one: Not In My Term Of Office) at Council are the guilty. It is oftentimes they who should know better. The times they are a-changing, but who would have predicted that refusing to countenance all or any urban development and consolidation was a perfectly reasonable green policy. Consensus has it that it is a more sustainable approach – but hey, that’s an argument for another forum.
How dare you propose to build something, or anything… REFUSED.
Fight Night: Planners versus Councillors
Councils are an odd beast – a little like the “pushmi-pullyu” from Doctor Doolittle (does he work in Council’s road crew?) – part trained Council officers (with the emphasis on part trained) and part elected representatives. A planning report recommending approval is no guarantee of said approval if it comes to a vote of Councillors (see Neighbours & Local Politics). On the other hand, a planning report recommending refusal is no guarantee of the Councillors voting down the proposal, concerted lobbying of the Applicant highlighting the virtues of their Application (refer The Brown Paper Bag). REFUSED. (oh, wait… that paper bag!)
Fright Night: Planners versus Design Review Panel
Not to be confused with the original gothic horror film of vampires and murder, or even the recent 3D remake, the action packed sequel explicitly revels in the horror of trained architects and urban designers facing off against planners and traffic engineers.
[WARNING: Movie Spoiler Alert] Much mayhem, little mirth, pursues. It doesn’t turn out well for the Design Review Panel. (Rated R)
Margaret: I thought the scene with the scimitar was both gross and engrossing. Showed promise from a first time Director. (2.5 stars)
David: I found the plot stretched credulity and the denouement exceedingly disappointing. (1 star) REFUSED.
Magicians utilise misdirection to create their illusions, they divert their audience’s attention to one thing so their focus is away from another. Far be it for us to suggest Councils are so skilled, or malevolent. In any case they’re a solo act, internally misdirecting advice or opinion. Pre-DA advice must be sought but it is never final. Freshly submitted DA’s may be reviewed by Council officers not involved in the pre-DA process and who may proffer contradictory opinions to those given earlier or raise a previously benign aspect of the application as contentious. These are the stock in trade of Council’s sleight of hand. Gotcha!… REFUSED.
Redshift, for the most part, maintains a good relationship with all Councils we have dealt with and to date we have navigated the vast majority of our designs through to DA Approval. This should be read as a gentle dig at the DA process not a bitter tirade. After recent experiences, we thought an irreverent look at the issue was worthwhile to highlight some of the mysteries and vagaries of an imperfect if not broken system, in need of an overhaul. We find it a challenge at times to forewarn our inexperienced clients at the mysteries about to unfold, but to end on a cliché, we think forewarned is forearmed.
By the way, if you have any other experiences or headings to add please feel free to do so in the Comments Section