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1 March 2021

The Power of the Pre-App

A pre-application meeting – or pre-app – can be an effective tool in the planning approvals process. A comprehensive, well managed pre-app can take months off the application process, reduce project risk and provide clarity on strategies to proceed through the planning process. 

In this article, we explore what a pre-app is and how it can be beneficial to a project.

What is a Pre-App?

A pre-app offers an opportunity to understand a local authority’s view on a development proposal prior to committing to the full scope of work required for submission. A pre-app gives insights for complicated proposals and can expose hidden obstacles that are best avoided.

Pre-apps are usually meetings that include Council planners, permit applicants and their representatives. For larger projects, these meetings may also include planning managers or coordinators, Council referral parties, architects or designers, and other stakeholders. 

In the meeting, the proponent outlines the merits of the proposal, including the response to local planning policy and the site context.  Council planners provide feedback based on their understanding of the planning controls, community sentiment and likely pathway for the application. The meetings are largely informal, allowing for different parties to provide input into the development proposal outside of the constraints of the more rigid application processes.

After the meeting is over, the Council planner will generally complete a summary of discussions which is retained on their system. In the case that Council does not provide a summary, a key service our planners offer is compiling notes and circulating them to the project team. The summary can be provided to the permit applicant as well.

The Value of a Pre-App

In our view, the informality of a pre-app meeting is a key benefit. It allows ‘without prejudice’ conversations with a range of approval stakeholders. Officers – particularly referral departments – often raise matters that could not have been directly foreseen by the consulting team. This is driven by the plethora of local policies and motivations that are often only known to Council officers.

This advice early on in a statutory process can allow revisions to key parts of a proposal prior to the costly and time-consuming process of finalising the details of a project and its schematics.

An effective pre-app meeting can provide vital inputs into an application strategy, which is often the difference between an efficient approvals process or a process fraught with frustration.

Some municipal authorities offer ‘fast-track’ pre-app processes where correspondence is sent after the meeting and processing timeframes are reduced. These innovative approaches require commitment from our local government partners but generally yield positive results via reduced decision timeframes.

We generally recommend a pre-application meeting is held early in the design process for more complex proposals and for many less complex proposals. Early advice from your Planner will help you decide if a pre-app suitable.

The Cost of Not Having a Pre-App

One value of a pre-app meeting is that officers become more familiar with the site and proposal outside of the timeframe pressures of the application process. This improved familiarity can lead to more informed assessment, reduced application timeframes and more open dialogue.  A pre-app is a good way to build positive relationships with approvals stakeholders.

Contrary to this is when significant concerns are raised toward the end of the application process. This can cause frustration for clients and project teams, particularly when impacts to GFA or project costs occur.  Our experience shows that officers are more likely to have reviewed the site holistically when a project has had a pre-app meeting.

How Ratio Provides Value

Our planners frequently facilitate pre-app meetings and have found them productive to include in a project approval. Two recent Ratio projects demonstrate the value of early engagement with local government partners: 

  • On a strategically important site in an Inner-City municipality, our Planners held several pre-app meetings with a range of stakeholders including strategic planners, transport engineers and governance representatives. As this was a site designated for ‘significant change’ the authority predicted considerable community angst, hence the Councillor group was kept informed. The outcome was a Council meeting approval following a five-month application process.
  • On a project within which Ratio represented a local government client, Ratio facilitated two separate pre-app meetings with a diverse range of internal referral agencies. This allowed a ‘complete’ application to be submitted, aligning informal community consultation sessions with formal advertising processes. This reduced project risk for the client and ensured that internal stakeholder positions were known prior to submission.

We commend our local government partners on promoting and supporting pre-application meeting processes and empowering officers to facilitate these forums. Ratio’s planners enjoy strong relationships across the industry, allowing us access to key contacts required to arrange these meetings.

For your next project, speak to your ratio: contact about whether a pre-app meeting may be an integral part of the approvals process.


Author: Scott Matheson, Senior Planner

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