Knowing the impact of zoning laws and the potential for rezoning is one of the most critical aspects of developing, investing or land-banking. The area has become even more complex in recent years and commercial agencies are dedicating entire divisions to planning advisory.

Developers need to aware of the issues surrounding planning, zoning - basically what can and can’t be done on sites - to have realistic timelines for having sites approved and operational. Yet the danger lies in moving forward without digging deep enough into the information available, said Stephen Gouge, Planning Manager of Knight Frank Town Planning Sydney.

Devil in the detail

“In some cases we find that land owners or purchasers tend not to be sufficiently rigorous in pursuing the information required to determine exactly what can and cannot be done with a property or building site, both now and into the future,” Mr Gouge said.

“They will presume, or assume, what can be done and may not seek external advice.”

Robert McLaurin, sales executive with Niemeyer Commercial Industrial in Sydney’s south-west agrees. Complexity of zoning laws in the industrial space in particular had risen markedly in the past five years alone, he said. “People really need to do their homework nowadays,” Mr McLaurin said. “We strongly advise that they seek advice on zoning certificates to make sure they can do what they want to do with a property in the long run.”

Knight Frank established its town planning consultancy division in the last five years in response to the need for clarity around zoning and planning regulations. The division provides consultancy advice across a wide range of sectors.

“A common hurdle is buyers and developers believing that they are fully aware of the planning laws,” Mr Gouge said. “But more often than not they are not across the intricacies of what applies in individual circumstances.

“What applies elsewhere to a site may not be what is applicable to your property. Every situation is unique and this is something that really needs to be understood.

“State and local planning legislation is now multi-layered, and if this complex nature of zoning and planning and regulation is not understood you can get tripped up on that property.”

 Raising awareness

In NSW and especially the Sydney Metropolitan area, the comprehensive strategic planning reforms made to planning in the past few decades will result in many areas undergoing changes either now or in the near future.

“This level of wholesale strategic planning hasn’t happened across Sydney for several decades,” Mr Gouge explained. “It means that some things don’t exist in zoning or draft plans. These reforms are embedded in strategic plans that may have a medium to long term delivery timeframe but are not included in existing legislation.

“Landowners need to be aware of these and future plans for certain areas to be rezoned and make informed decisions – as what we will see in coming years is the State government and local councils delivering and realising some of this strategic planning in their planning controls.

“There’s always statutory work (such as Development Applications) and strategic planning going on and we work with landowners and councils and State government to ensure stakeholders’ aspirations and the potential benefits for their sites can be realised by encapsulating these in the strategic planning – and then ultimately incorporated in the planning controls including Local Environmental Plans.”

Zoning 101

State and local government zoning regulations govern the type of development in a given area. Categories fall under commercial / mixed use / residential / industrial / agricultural / public use.

Each regulation within these categories has a corresponding code. Each state has its own regulations and planning laws.

NSW – planning and zoning governed by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

In NSW, planning decisions over zoning and development are guided by Local Environmental Plans, or LEPs, which were introduced in 2006. Current re-zoning proposals can be tracked here

Check what is going on in your area by visiting

VICTORIA – governed by the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure.

The Melbourne Metropolitan Planning Strategy, released in 2017, contains plans and aspirations to the year 2050. Links to visit include:  for the metropolitan area and for regional Victoria.