Alert | Con­struc­tion indus­try update: When is reme­di­al build­ing work exempt devel­op­ment? 11 July 2023

The Depart­ment of Plan­ning and Envi­ron­ment has pub­lished a Reme­di­al Build­ing Work – State Envi­ron­men­tal Plan­ning Pol­i­cy (Exempt and Com­ply­ing Devel­op­ment Codes) 2008’ Fact Sheet (Fact Sheet) to pro­vide guid­ance as to when reme­di­al build­ing work is con­sid­ered exempt devel­op­ment under the Exempt and Com­ply­ing Devel­op­ment (Codes SEPP):

https://​www​.plan​ning​.nsw​.gov​.au/​s​i​t​e​s​/​d​e​f​a​u​l​t​/​f​i​l​e​s​/2023 – 07/remedial-building-work-sepp-fact-sheet.pdf

The clas­si­fi­ca­tion of reme­di­al works as either exempt or not exempt devel­op­ment clear­ly has mas­sive con­se­quences for own­ers cor­po­ra­tions in the under­tak­ing of reme­di­al projects. 

If reme­di­al works are exempt devel­op­ment, those works can progress with­out hav­ing the delay of going through the approvals process and, if the works are also exclud­ed from the Design and Build­ing Prac­ti­tion­ers Act 2020 (DBP) under clause 13 of the Design and Build­ing Prac­ti­tion­ers Reg­u­la­tions 2021 (Reg­u­la­tions), then the works can progress with­out the prepa­ra­tion of a Reg­u­lat­ed Design. 

But, if the works can­not be car­ried out as exempt devel­op­ment, this means that not only must an own­ers cor­po­ra­tion go down the approvals path­way but also com­ply with the DBP. Effec­tive­ly hav­ing two lev­els of reg­u­la­to­ry con­trol for the same work which, whilst in the case of major works may be war­rant­ed, per­haps not with minor works.

It must be not­ed that for some old­er stra­ta schemes, who were not required to have a fire safe­ty cer­tifi­cate at the time of con­struc­tion or where no fire safe­ty mea­sures are cur­rent­ly imple­ment­ed, required, or pro­posed for the build­ing, clause 1.16(2) of the Codes SEPP applies to imme­di­ate­ly clas­si­fy these works as not exempt devel­op­ment requir­ing com­pli­ance through the approvals pathway.

The Remedial/​Strata indus­try has been reel­ing since the intro­duc­tion of the DBP. Two years on, numer­ous reme­di­al projects in class 2 build­ings are on hold, unin­tend­ed con­se­quences pre­vail, and con­fu­sion has reigned in the reme­di­al build­ing indus­try. Design and build­ing prac­ti­tion­ers, own­ers cor­po­ra­tions, and stra­ta man­agers have been look­ing for guid­ance as to what reme­di­al build­ing works are actu­al­ly exempt devel­op­ment’ works. 

Whilst the Gov­ern­ment and Remedial/​Strata con­sul­ta­tion process con­tin­ues with the intent of pro­vid­ing fur­ther clar­i­ty for the indus­try in the com­ing months, in the inter­im, the Fact Sheet pro­vides gen­er­al infor­ma­tion and wel­come guid­ance to the indus­try. This is an out­stand­ing result in the con­sul­ta­tion process and a pos­i­tive out­come for the indus­try with sig­nif­i­cant input by ACRA[1] on behalf of the reme­di­al industry.

His­tor­i­cal­ly, reme­di­al build­ing works in mul­ti-storey res­i­den­tial or mixed-use build­ings, have gen­er­al­ly been classed as repair and main­te­nance’ works. Con­se­quent­ly, plan­ning approval for numer­ous reme­di­al projects, was con­sid­ered unnecessary.

Whilst the Codes SEPP has not changed, the cur­rent focus on the DBP and what build­ing works are clas­si­fied as exempt and not exempt build­ing works has brought the spot­light onto clause 1.16 of the Codes SEPP[2].

In new con­struc­tion works, to com­ply with the Build­ing Code of Aus­tralia (BCA) is sim­ple (or should be). You are design­ing a new build­ing. You are not restrict­ed for the works you are per­form­ing, hav­ing to fit in with an exist­ing and most prob­a­bly, non-com­pli­ant space. There should be rel­e­vant Deemed to Sat­is­fy (DTS) pro­vi­sions applic­a­ble to the new build­ing works or you should be able to com­fort­ably pre­pare a Per­for­mance Solu­tion to meet the per­for­mance require­ments of the BCA.

If you are under­tak­ing reme­di­al build­ing work in an exist­ing class 2 build­ing, some­times more than 3050 years old, a prac­ti­tion­er will find them­selves hav­ing to fit a design’, to either rec­ti­fy a defect or ren­o­vate a dilap­i­dat­ing build­ing, into a space which does not allow strict com­pli­ance with the cur­rent ver­sion of the BCA. These works, in con­sid­er­ing the Codes SEPP, mean that where no Deemed to Sat­is­fy pro­vi­sion is rel­e­vant, the works must be struc­tural­ly ade­quate and not con­tra­vene the BCA to be exempt development.

Or, you may be per­form­ing reme­di­al build­ing works which do not neat­ly fit’ into the Exempt Devel­op­ment Codes under the Codes SEPP applic­a­ble to Minor Build­ing Alter­ations.[3]

Under the Codes SEPP, there is con­fu­sion around what reme­di­al build­ing works are exempt under the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of Minor Build­ing Alter­ations’. There is no ref­er­ence to reme­di­al’ build­ing works in the Codes SEPP nor a def­i­n­i­tion of minor.’ Whilst there has been a grad­ual real­i­sa­tion by Gov­ern­ment as to the clear dis­tinc­tion between reme­di­al’ build­ing works and new’ con­struc­tion and the Gov­ern­ment is step­ping up to pro­vide guid­ance work­ing with the leg­is­la­tion in its cur­rent form, there is a hope of leg­isla­tive change to come.

Clause 2.53 (Sub­di­vi­sion 27) of the Codes SEPP lists a num­ber of minor exter­nal non-struc­tur­al alter­ations which are clas­si­fied as exempt’. Clause 2.53 con­tains the words such as the fol­low­ing’ so, the list of minor alter­ations list­ed is not, an exhaus­tive list. 

Despite this and not­ing the gross uncer­tain­ty and lack of clar­i­fi­ca­tion stem­ming from increased reg­u­la­tion, practitioners/​certifiers/​building con­sul­tants have been unwill­ing to clas­si­fy some reme­di­al build­ing works as exempt’. This has led to mul­ti­ple projects being put on hold, more devel­op­ment appli­ca­tions being lodged, and increased costs and delays for own­ers corporations. 

The Fact Sheet aims to pro­vide guid­ance for the reme­di­al indus­try as to exam­ples of what reme­di­al build­ing works are con­sid­ered exempt’ works and, whilst the DBP still applies for exempt works such as water­proof­ing or cladding, clar­i­ty is pro­vid­ed for reme­di­al build­ing works such as exter­nal win­dow and door replace­ments, balustrade repair and replace­ment, cav­i­ty flash­ings, lin­tels, con­crete repairs.

If you are per­form­ing reme­di­al build­ing works which:

  • do not per­ma­nent­ly alter’ the load-bear­ing ele­ments or lay­out of the building
  • re-instate a build­ing ele­ment to its intend­ed struc­tur­al capac­i­ty’ and do not reduce the struc­tur­al ade­qua­cy of that build­ing element 
  • do not change the orig­i­nal archi­tec­ture or design intent of the build­ing ie like-for-like
  • pose min­i­mal impact to the built environment

and com­ply with the devel­op­ment stan­dards these are reme­di­al build­ing works which would be con­sid­ered exempt devel­op­ment’ under the Codes SEPP. The Fact Sheet con­tains some exam­ples of typ­i­cal reme­di­al works to assist.

This means that regard­less of under­tak­ing reme­di­al build­ing on a struc­tur­al ele­ment, pro­vid­ed the above is met and the Codes SEPP devel­op­ment stan­dards fol­lowed, the reme­di­al build­ing work will be clas­si­fied as exempt devel­op­ment but will, if not exclud­ed under clause 13 of the Reg­u­la­tions, still need to com­ply with the DBP

The Fact Sheet pro­vides guid­ance and gen­er­al infor­ma­tion for the Remedial/​Strata indus­try with the obser­va­tion that log­ic should be applied. Where there is uncer­tain­ty about whether a reme­di­al build­ing project is exempt devel­op­ment or not, advice should be obtained from the rel­e­vant professionals. 

[1] Aus­tralasian Con­crete Repair & Reme­di­al Build­ing Association

[2] Extract only of clause 1.16 Codes SEPP

(1) To be exempt devel­op­ment for the pur­pos­es of this Pol­i­cy, the reme­di­al build­ing work—

(a) must meet the rel­e­vant deemed-to-sat­is­fy pro­vi­sions of the Build­ing Code of Aus­tralia (DTS), or if there are no such rel­e­vant pro­vi­sions, must be struc­tural­ly ade­quate, and

(b) must not, if it relates to an exist­ing build­ing, cause the build­ing to con­tra­vene the Build­ing Code of Australia…

(2) Devel­op­ment that relates to an exist­ing build­ing that is clas­si­fied under the Build­ing Code of Aus­tralia as class 1b or class 2 – 9 is exempt devel­op­ment for the pur­pos­es of this Pol­i­cy only if—

(a) the build­ing has a cur­rent fire safe­ty cer­tifi­cate or fire safe­ty state­ment, or

(b) no fire safe­ty mea­sures are cur­rent­ly imple­ment­ed, required or pro­posed for the building.

[3] Sub­di­vi­sion 26 Minor Build­ing Alter­ations (inter­nal) [clause 2.51] and Sub­di­vi­sion 27 Minor Build­ing Alter­ations (exter­nal) [clause 2.53] of the Codes SEPP.