What level of Detail is required for Planning and Development Applications?
By nature or perhaps by design, our planning regime is imperfect and confusing especially when trying to determine the level of access detail required at each stage of the negotiations. Developers are often reticent to prepare details and reports, especially if there is an element of uncertainty and the project is subject to further changes. On the other side of the counter:- the planners’ are looking for greater detail to ensure that the project will be fit for purpose.
Our interpretation is that ultimately the entire development team including planning authorities, developers, builders and building certifiers have a responsibility to consider the DDA principles in the design of new developments.
In the case of Ian Cooper v. Coffs Harbour City Council the authority were found liable in permitting a development later found to be inaccessible. Therefore it is practical for all parties to address access as early as possible in the planning stage. Submissions to planners should demonstrate that access is achievable within the site and building to accommodate access for people with disabilities.
The presence of an Access report accompanying a planning application and statement of environmental effects generally demonstrates that the project team understands their obligations and are committed to providing access for people with disabilities.
Following planning approval the applicant should provide detailed documentation illustrating how access is to be achieved and during construction and proposed access amenities should be completed to the numbers and standards required by the BCA and proposed by the approvals.
The processes may vary and require further interpretation and management of the approval processes where a building is a staged development, unoccupied at the time of completion, awaiting tenement or subject to further approvals such as change of use. A typical example would be a commercial building where the tenant is managing their own premises fit out.
The following examples are extracts from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission web site
Failure to ensure access conditions fulfilled
A woman who uses a wheelchair complained that her local council, which had approved construction of a motel with disability access, had failed to note on final inspection that a number of features of the “accessible” suite did not in fact meet access conditions and that an accessible parking space was lacking. The matter was settled when the council advised that rectification of the access features had been arranged, and that staff had increased their vigilance on access issues.
It’s not accessible if its blocked
A woman complained on behalf of her father who uses a wheelchair that when the family attended a restaurant the “accessible” toilet was in fact inaccessible because tables and chairs had been stacked against it. The complaint was settled when the restaurant apologised, stating that the furniture had been moved for cleaning and the failure to move it back was a rare oversight.
Ian Cooper v. Coffs Harbour City Council
A council was held not liable for permitting discrimination in approving an inaccessible development, on the basis that they had not acted unreasonably. However, this decision was reversed by the Federal Court which pointed out that liability for permitting an unlawful act was strict unless the council had acted on an honest and reasonable mistaken view of the facts. On rehearing the case the Commission found that “the Council did little if anything to properly inform itself of the relevant matters so that its belief could be supported on reasonable grounds” and was liable accordingly.