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Expert Witness in the Land and Environment Court

Archaeological Services

Plant Identification

Turf Management

Bush Regeneration


Development Applications

-  Buying Land?


-  How to Prepare a DA


-  Statement of Environmental Effects


-  Subdivisions


-  Home Site Development


-  Project Management and Supervision


-  Ecological Sustainability Plans


Vegetation Management

GIS Mapping

Environmental Impact Assessments

Development Applications

We are able to provide you with:

  • Review of Environmental Factors (REF)

  • Statement of Environmental Effects (SEE)

  • Farm Water Management

  • Specialisation in management of Threatened Species

  • Subdivisions (Farm, rural and urban)

  • Home site development

  • Project management and supervision

  • Ecological Sustainability Plans

  • Tree Consultation



Buying land?

It is our experience that legal searches may not extend to finding environmental constraints, and that real estate agents may not be aware of such issues.  Councils have no obligation to find impediments for any parcel of land beyond the zoning restrictions and opportunities.  Land may be "capable" of supporting a particular development by virtue of zoning, but may not be "suitable" because of constraints peculiar to any individual site or development proposal.


We advise that before purchase of land, an assessment is undertaken to find if Threatened Species or plant communities exist on a development site, or if other environmental constraints exist.


Any contract for purchase of land needs to include clauses

"subject to suitable finance", and

"subject to approval of Development Application".


Land purchase generally requires a legal search by a lawyer to find legal restrictions to use of the land.  Such searches are very restricted and do not cover all the issues that will affect the potential of the land.  Such issues are as follows:


Certificate of Title: there are two forms of a title certificate.  Only the Long Form will include all the information needed to adequately inform a potential purchaser.


Zoning:  A zoning is NOT an entitlement, merely an opportunity to apply for a use.  There are numerous considerations made in conjunction with the Zone.  If land has a population of an Endangered Species, or supports an Endangered Ecological Community, that will affect he use of the land.  Similarly, a Regional Environment Plan or State Environmental Planning Policy may affect the land.  These will not be included on a Certificate of Title.


Professional developers overcome this by engaging relevant assistants such as a Professional Planner and Consulting Ecologist to research the potential of a site, and to find relevant constraints.


Example 1: A 100 hectare property was advertised by a real estate agent as being subdividable into ten Lots of 10 hectares each, with a potential revenue calculated on that basis.  However, once the river, swamps, cliffs and bushfire hazard were considered, the land had five usable Lots.


Example 2: A couple were looking at land to buy adjoining some bushland.  The tree trunks were black, so they asked the real estate agent if bushfire was a problem.  The agent said no, the blackness was a local fungus growing on the trunks.  The site was in fact an extreme bushfire risk area (Flame Zone).  This greatly affects house design and construction costs.


Hint: Never believe anything a real estate agent tells you.  Find out for yourself.

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How to prepare a DA

A Development Application can be a lengthy painful process, or it can be less so, depending on the approach taken at the beginning.

Good research to find opportunities and constraints at the start is wise.

Our experience is that when a developer looks at a parcel of land with one view only, it becomes very difficult and expensive at the final stages of the process.  If a developer finds that bushfire of environmental issues need to be taken into account late in the process, it may result in a lot of architectural and other costs being wasted.


Most councils suggest that a developer discusses a project with a team at council before lodging a DA.  This is called a Pre-lodgement meeting.  This can be recorded on and relied on for guidance.  Many matters can be decided upon at this meeting. In this way, considerable expense can be avoided.


The time it takes to process an application may be lengthy.  If a decision is not made within 40 days, a developer may take that as a "deemed refusal" and appeal to the NSW Land and Environment Court, which may provide a faster and more reliable decision pathway.  For this reason, using a good specialist environmental lawyer as a project manager can be an excellent investment.

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Statement of Environmental Effects

A summary of the impacts of a proposal is presented to a Council or other Determining Authority as a Statement of Environment Effects (SEE).

A project manager will require input from a range of specialists in order to prepare a Statement of Environment Effects.

Abel Ecology and our Associates have wide experience in collaborating with a team of experts on projects.

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Subdivisions (Farm, Rural and Urban)

The concept of subdivision has a range of purposes and outcomes.


Your purpose may be to provide for Estate Planning for your heirs, to realise the cash value of your present assets, or improve your management structure for your land.


In all these contexts, there are some basic considerations that need to be made, as your land does not recognise your plans.


There are various physical features of your land that need to be taken into account, such as soils, water resources, agricultural potential, landforms, road access, bushfire management considerations, vegetation and wildlife.


It is our experience that there are big assets and development opportunities that are sometimes unrecognised and therefore not used to increase the value of a subdivision.  For example, a Lot layout of diverse sizes which includes some assets entirely in individual Lots can attract a higher overall selling price.

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Home Site Development

Home sites in existing subdivisions usually require consideration and management of watercourses, landforms, bushfire, natural vegetation, and fauna habitat.


All these can provide opportunities for creative use of the site, and a home design that maximises the values of the site.

For example, we have enabled home owners to get spectacular ocean views, or to have beautiful endangered birds, provide a display in front of the lounge room windows.


The wise approach is to investigate the land before purchase.

Legal searches will not find the factors which actually affect your use of the site, as such searches do not include bushfire risks, endangered vegetation communities or threatened species.


In our experience, package project home designs from building companies may not suit a particular block of land, and may wind up being more expensive than a house designed for the site.  It is advisable to get a quote from an architect and compare that to the total cost of a project home with additional site costs.

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Project Management and Supervision

So, you don’t like getting a fine for breaches of consent conditions for a project?

And you can do without the delays resulting from work having to be restored.


What can go wrong?

The concreter washes out the truck on the street, and you get fined (Parramatta Council September 2004).


You have spent $15,000 on landscaping and while you are waiting for signoff from your Principal Certification Authority (PCA), the plumbers come and flatten the lot and digs a trench through the middle (Granville August 2004).


The silt fence is not installed properly and dirt goes down the stormwater drain into the creek where council have just completed a high profile restoration project.  This builder was found guilty and fined.


The subcontractors park their vehicles on the sensitive vegetation which is to be protected from disturbance during the project.


The contractors refuse to accept responsibility for damage to other parts of your project.


What should happen

Council issues consent based on your submitted documentation.

Contractors are able to quote clearly and comparably on your design.

You construct your development to budget and on time.

Your Principal Certification Authority (PCA) signs off for completion.


What we can do

We provide the direct link between your council consent conditions and the contractors performance criteria by means of Works Orders and Site Inductions.


Principal Certifier – Building

Below is a summary of what a Principal Certifier does, and some comments on the gaps in the process.


The EP&A Act was amended in December 1997 to streamline the development approval process in NSW by:


  • Providing a single assessment procedure for development, heritage, environment, etc.

  • Integrating building and subdivision controls into the development control framework and creating four levels of development

  • State Significant Development

  • Local Development

  • Complying Development

  • Exempt Development


As part of the reform process, the amendments introduced private certification to NSW. Individual professionals, employed in the private sector, are given the authority to certify certain building and subdivision works that previously required Council approval. Councils have also identified exempt development and complying development in their Local Environmental Plans (LEP) and have indicated whether private certifiers may issue subdivision certificates in their area.


The Strata Schemes Legislation Amendment (Strata Approvals) Act 1999 and the Strata Schemes (Freehold Development) Amendment Act (Strata Approvals) Regulation 2000 permit accredited private certifiers to issue strata certificates.


Private certifiers must be accredited by an authorised accreditation body (such as IEAust) to undertake certification work. An accreditation scheme for certifiers was prepared by IEAust and received ministerial authorisation in August 1998.


The Registration Board supervises the IEAust accreditation scheme.  A revised scheme was authorised on 1 Dec 2000 to cater for four categories of private certifier:


  • Accredited certifier – who will be able to issue compliance certificates for building and subdivision works that fall within the classes of activity in which they are accredited.


  • Principal Certifier – Building (unrestricted), - accredited to issue strata certificates, complying development certificates, construction certificates and occupation certificates for all classes of building.


  • Principal Certifier – Building (Class 1 & 10), - accredited to issue strata certificates, complying development certificates, construction certificates and occupation certificates for Class 1 and 10 buildings as defined in the Building Code of Australia (BCA) Volume 2, Housing Provisions.


  • Principal Certifier - Subdivision, - accredited to issue strata certificates, complying development certificates, construction certificates and subdivision certificates, where permitted by the Council.


The gap is between the council consent order for a DA, and the inspections by a certifier.

In order to make sure that your development stays consistent with your plans, it is advisable to prepare the following:


  • Site preparation plan

  • Works Orders

  • Contractor site induction document

  • Contractor sign off record


Ask Abel Ecology to assist in this process.

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Ecological Sustainability Plans

Many councils require a means to assure them that a development is likely to be sustainable in the long term.  Long term in ecological terms is many hundreds of years, but the life expectancy of a development may be only decades or a couple of hundred years.  The life span of a tree may be up to five hundred years or more.


In this context, it is wise to plan a development to provide for changes in vegetation and local fauna use of a site.  Impact of a development begins with construction, and continues throughout the life of the development.  It is unusual that a development would ever be reversible, to return a site to its original condition.  So the challenge is to maximise the use of the site for a purpose while minimising ongoing impacts emanating from the site.


Two factors that are wise to consider are impact amelioration and habitat enhancement.


Impact amelioration takes the form of reducing both the immediate impact, and long term consequences, of a development.  Original and creative planning and design can provide habitat enhancement to improve a site from its original condition.  Habitat enhancement is particularly suited to reuse of previously developed sites.  We work closely with landscape architects to this end.


Sustainability is thus built in to a development, for both the short and long term, providing a more useable development, and a better place to work and live.

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Abel Ecology Pty Ltd 2014.  trading as Abel Earthcare, Abel EarthScape and Abel Archaeology

ACN  079 079 762    ABN  72 516 253 751