What is a Detail Survey?

When undertaking any type of land development in New South Wales, a Detail Survey is the first step in the process and necessary for a Planning and Building Application

About Detail Surveys

The word detail means both natural and man-made structures on a piece of land – such as vegetation, types of soil, buildings, land utilities, fences and boundaries, roads, land marks and so on.

This kind of survey is usually confined to the boundaries of the parcel of land. The survey will often include data such as the elevation of the land, that is, how high the land is above an arbitrary datum (level).

A commonly used arbitrary level is the Mean Sea Level which is taken as zero metres high. The Easting and Northing coordinates of the land (exact position in relation to the earth’s surface) may have to be taken too.

What Do They Show?

They detail all information about the property, adjoining properties and features in the street, in fact everything that is required by your local Council to modify or develop property and land.

The survey information is used by Council, architects and builders to see factors such as:

  • ground level
  • contours
  • existing structures
  • adjoining structures
  • fences
  • utility services
  • drains
  • trees etc.

How Are They Carried Out?

They are generally carried out using survey equipment such as total stations and theodolites. The data is then carried to the office for analysis and preparation of detail maps known as Digital Terrain Models, which provide the details that have been collected in the form of a map.

These maps are useful for engineers and architects who use them in their designs and plans. The survey should be carried out by a qualified land surveyor who may be assisted by a chainman.

When Are Detail Surveys Needed?

  • When you are planning to construct or extend a building on your land
  • When you need to locate and record all land features and structures
  • When you want to present information about your land for purposes of land valuation.

All of these things have a bearing on what is possible in terms of design, building, land development and subdivision.

It’s vital to have a detail survey done first to avoid disappointment and costly mistakes later during the building process.

What is a Cadastral Survey Plan?

A cadastral survey plan is basically a property boundary survey. They are primarily carried out for legal purposes so as to accurately establish land ownership boundaries and usage.

Cadastral surveys show the boundaries of properties between neighbours and may include items such as easements, which are the right to cross or use someone else’s property for a particular reason.

Who Can Perform Them?

In Australia, surveyors who do them must be licensed or registered by the Surveyors Board of the state they are operating in.

This is important because cadastral survey plans become part of the Australian register of property titles (also known as a cadastre) which is managed by the state government through agencies such as the NSW Land Registry Services.

When are Cadastral Surveys Needed?

Cadastral or property boundary surveys are needed when:

  • New parcels of land are created i.e. a new estate or large land development
  • You want to subdivideyour block and get several new land titles
  • Neighbours want to check their property boundaries prior to fencing or building on or near the boundary
  • You want to create and grant an easement for access or use by another party

For existing properties where boundaries need to be redefined, these surveys are commonly known as repeg or re-establishment surveys.

What is a Lease Area Survey?

Lease Area Surveys are carried out to measure the area of land or space within a building. This area becomes the basis for determining the rental value of the premises or land under the terms of a lease agreement.

3 Types of Lease Area Surveys

In general, there are three different types of Lease Area Surveys (which are also known as Lease Plan Surveys and Lettable Area Surveys):

  • Net area surveys for commercial properties such as office buildings and Business Parks
  • Gross area surveys for industrial sites such as warehouses, showrooms, industrial workshops and for free-standing supermarkets
  • Gross area surveys for retail tenancies in shopping centres, shopping strips and free-standing shops.

Different types of buildings can have different areas for tenancy use, and different types of leases also determine different uses, which define different areas for measurement. For example, the lettable area can either be up to the inner walls or the outer walls, or premises in retail areas have different lettable areas than those in industrial areas. Such specifics can also be negotiated between an owner / agent and a tenant.

For surveying purposes, such differences in leases require standardised industry guidelines for measurement, and these are set out by the Property Council of Australia, which publishes the handbook ‘Methods of Measurement’. Lease Area Surveyors should follow these PCA guidelines in delivering their service.

(Note: the previous equivalent industry body was the Building Owners and Managers Association, and Lease Area Surveys also used to be known as BOMA surveys).

Why Is a Lease Area Survey Needed?

There are four related reasons why Lease Area Surveys are required:

  • To comply with the legal requirements of the Property Council of Australia, which can cover long-term or high-value leases
  • To avoid owner-tenancy disputes over land / area use for the period of the lease. Put simply, as a tenant you only want to pay for the area you occupy, and as an owner or agent you only want to lease a specific area, and incorrectly quoted areas can easily lead to costly disputes or litigation
  • For forward business planning regarding costs and uses. Again, a small miscalculation of a leased area can have a significant impact over a 10 year period
  • Standardisation in measurement and area.

When Are They Needed?

When entering into, renewing or negotiating a lease of a property for your business.

By Whom Are They Needed?

Tenants, property owners, property managers and agents all need Lease Area Surveys in order to enter into lease agreements with peace of mind.

What is Strata Title?

Very simply put, strata titles allow individuals to have ownership of part of a property and share ownership of the common property areas. Typical examples include apartments, units and townhouses where you own a living space and share ownership of the building, common driveways, gardens and land.

Strata schemes (or plans) are the registered plans of a strata title property and are quite common in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors of New South Wales. Strata schemes may occur in new developments and existing developments.


Benefits include being able to potentially purchase better quality buildings for less than non-strata freehold properties, on smaller, easy to manage lots in more desirable areas. Also, there are often shared cost benefits for things like painting, upkeep of grounds, fences and so on.

Strata property law actually originated in Australia and due to its unique benefits, has since been adopted by many other countries around the world. Over time, the property law concerning strata has evolved and been refined, meaning much more complexity.

What is a Strata Scheme?

All Strata Schemes are depicted in strata plans. The strata plan is a subdivision of a parcel of Real Property land into separate lots and common property. Strata plans differ from conventional subdivisions in various ways:

  • All lots are defined as a cubic space and must be limited in height and depth
  • Every strata plan must have a building on the parcel
  • The lots are defined on the floor plan by the building or other permanent structures within the parcel
  • Everything within the parcel which does not form part of a lot is common property
  • It is the responsibility of the owners corporation to maintain and repair common property
  • The owners corporation is a body corporate of all of the lot owners in a scheme
  • Each lot in a strata plan is allocated a unit entitlement based upon its value relative to the other lots in the scheme. The unit entitlement represents that lot’s share of the common property. The unit entitlement must be determined by a qualified valuer.

Can a Strata Scheme be Staged?

The Strata Scheme Development Act provides for staged development.

The proposed development in stages of a parcel subject to a strata scheme consists of:

  • The progressive improvement of the parcel by the construction of buildings or the carrying out of works on development lots
  • The subsequent subdivision of each development lot and the consequential adjustment of the unit entitlement of lots in the scheme.

What is a Set-Out Survey?

A Set-Out Survey is used to set out the exact position of a proposed structure within the legal boundaries of a piece of land.

About Set-Out Surveys

This kind of survey is very important when preparing for any type of construction work.

Basically, a set-out survey involves transferring a building design onto the land itself, so the builders can follow it during construction. During the process, key points are established by markers used to guide the building process and ensure accuracy.

For large scale projects, such as high-rise buildings and developments, multiple set-out surveys may be needed as the construction progresses. Examples of this would be for the earthworks, roads, car parks, sewerage, water and the actual buildings themselves.

Why Are They Important?

These surveys are important for several reasons:

  • They allow for the construction to be done within the legal boundary, which is vital to ensure no boundary disputes later
  • They enable the construction team to build exactly to plan as markers are physically laid out in front of them.

When Are Set-Out Surveys Needed?

  • When building anything from a small dwelling to major commercial building or high-rise
  • When building roads, bridges, tunnels etc.
  • Doing any extensions to existing buildings.

What do Registered Land Surveyors do?

Land surveyors assess the surrounding terrain and landscape for the purpose of development.

They commonly use specialised technology and equipment to do this as many of today’s development, subdivision, building and tunnelling projects are so complex. This complexity combined with the sheer scale of some projects means that extremely accurate surveying data is required to ensure no mistakes are made.

Where and How They Operate?

The role of land surveyor involves both working out on project sites and back in the office.

While out on a project site, surveyors will perform a range of mathematical measurements to gather the information necessary to complete a detailed report and map of the land. They will map out distances, heights, slopes and features which will allow architects and builders to design, develop and build on the site.

Land surveyors use modern equipment such as Total Stations, which are basically electronic theodolites with built in electronic distance meters, to measure and capture data that will later be downloaded into mapping software back in the office. They also physically place pegs and tape to mark out the site as well as take plenty of photographs.

Back in the office, the data is used to create detailed maps for those involved in designing and developing the site. These surveys help determine what construction is possible given the lay of the land.

Why Is Land Surveying Important?

Land surveyors are a crucial link in the land development process. Without them we would be unsure of where to build structures and the infrastructure needed to support them.

They work closely with other professionals in the building and development industry, such as architects, geologists, builders and engineers to determine what is possible on any given site.

When Are Land Surveyors Needed?

There are many situations when you may be required to seek advice from a land surveyor.

Residential Sector

In the residential sector, they are used when building houses, subdividing properties, strata surveys and re-establishing boundaries to ensure clarity between neighbours. They assess the land to ensure buildings will fit, are designed to suit, that boundaries are correct and that all local council guidelines are followed.

Commercial Sector

In the commercial sector, land surveyors are involved early in developments such as road works, tunnelling, mining projects, high rise buildings, shopping centres, large strata projects and so on. They are usually one of the first professionals on a project site and the data produced enables others to carry out the design, earth moving and construction phases.


Do I Need Approval?

All development, unless it is complying or exempt development requires the submission of a development application and the consent of Council, subject to the relevant legislation. Refer below for an explanation of the different types of development.

Many types of home renovations and minor building projects don’t need approval from council or an accredited certifier. If the building project meets specific standards and land requirements, no planning or building approval is needed. This is called exempt development.

What is development without consent?

Not all development requires consent before work can start. This includes some low-impact or routine activities such as home businesses in a residential zone and environmental protection works in an environmental conservation zone. The Local Environmental Plan and/or State Environmental Planning Policies that apply to the area or activity will list all developments that are “permitted without consent”.

However, some of these developments (or activities) may still need a licence, permit or other approval from a public authority and may need to undergo an environmental assessment before approval can be given.

If it is Local Development, council will be the best source of information about what does not require consent or other permits that may be required.

What is Exempt Development?

Exemptions apply in some instances for structures that meet specific guidelines. It is necessary to refer to Schedule 2 of the relevant Council’s Local Environmental Plan to check against the relevant provisions.

Exempt development does not require the approval of Council because it is development that is minor in nature with minimal environmental impact.

For example, a small backyard shed or a bird aviary may be exempt development in certain instances. The State Government has introduced the State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) 2008, which provides for a range of different types of development to be considered as exempt development subject to satisfying the relevant development standards.

If the proposal does not satisfy all of the specified development standards, then an approval will be required through the use of the complying development provisions if applicable or by submission of a development applications for Council’s assessment and determination.

Applications that require development consent will generally also require issue of a construction certificate prior to the commencement of building or subdivision works.

Development consent can only be issued by Council. The issuing of construction certificates and the undertaking of building inspections may be carried out by Council as well as accredited certifiers.

What is Complying Development?

Complying development is development for the purposes of a house (or extension or addition to) which will have little impact. Complying development may also be works to an existing commercial or industrial building.

Development can only be complying development if it accords with the State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) 2008.

Before carrying out complying development, a Complying Development Certificate must be obtained. Applicants are required to ensure that the proposed development can be considered as complying development and that it accords with all relevant development standards listed in the code.

If the proposal does not satisfy all of the specified development standards then a development application will be required to be submitted to Council for the proposed development.

What is Local Development?

Local development is the most common type of development in NSW, with projects ranging from home extensions to medium sized commercial, retail and industrial developments. Most types of development are ‘local development’ and include houses, swimming pools, industrial, commercial and public buildings, subdivisions, changes of use and boundary alterations.

A development is considered local development if a Local Environmental Plan (LEP) or State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) states that development consent is required before the development can take place.

The procedures for applying for development consent, the level of environmental assessment required, the notification required, and appeal rights will differ depending on how a development is categorised. These categories include designated development, integrated development and advertised development.

What is Integrated Planning?

Integrated development is development that not only requires Council approval, but also requires the approval of at least, one other government department.

Council coordinates the process of seeking approvals from other government departments as part of the assessment of the application.

An applicant for integrated development must identify what approvals from government agencies are required and should consult such agencies before lodging the development application.

What is Designated Development?

Designated development is development that is listed in Schedule 3 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000, which includes environmentally impacting, large scale, potentially hazardous, noxious and offensive uses.

An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must accompany a development application for designated development and applicants should engage an appropriately qualified consultant to prepare the EIS.

What is State Significant Development?

This is development declared to be of State significance by the Minister for Planning or by a State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP), a Regional Plan (RP) or in the NSW Government Gazette.

In addition, the Minister has the power to call in specific development applications, including development prohibited by a local environmental plan.

State significant development requires the submission of a development application to NSW Planning and Environment for determination.

Should I have a pre-lodgement meeting with council before lodging my Development Application?

Pre-lodgement meetings (often referred to as pre-application meetings or pre-consultation meetings) are not always necessary. However, it is often a major benefit to have some pre-lodgement consultation with council. Sometimes you may just need to telephone the council for some minor advice, such as whether you need to seek council approval on your project.

For more complex projects, a pre-lodgement meeting can be helpful. You can contact the Town Planning staff at RDM and we will be able to advise you on whether a meeting is necessary.

What Additional rules and restrictions may apply?

Certain properties and areas may have different or additional rules that apply to building, renovations and subdivision if your development is:

  • in conservation areas
  • listed as a heritage building
  • listed on the State Heritage Register
  • in or near a site containing contaminated land
  • in or near bush fire prone area
  • where road widening is planned
  • in an area affected by flood.

In addition to the above, different or additional rules may apply to building and renovations in:

  • Planned Precincts,
  • Urban transformation programs,
  • Wholesale projects,
  • Growth centres.

The overarching frameworks that guide future development in these areas mean properties may have different or additional planning rules to other areas of NSW.

It’s also a good idea to check which planning controls apply to your property before you plan any renovations or building work.

A s10.7 Planning Certificate is a legal document issued by councils. The certificate details zoning and applicable rules for development. It also identifies if complying development can be carried out on the property.

How do I apply?

To find out if your development needs consent, you should look at the zoning tables in the relevant LEP or SEPPs for the area of the proposed development.

How long will my assessment application take?

Council’s processing time for applications can vary from as little as four weeks to more than a year (dependent on the nature, scale and complexity of the application).

The time taken to determine a development application will be affected by a number of factors, including:

  • Whether you have researched and designed your development to Council’s standards.
  • Whether you have submitted sufficient information, and the quality and professionalism of that information, to enable Council to meet its legal obligations to assess your application.
  • The response to your application from your neighbours and the wider community.
  • Whether Council considers there is a need for you to vary your proposal to meet planning requirements or community concerns.
  • Responses from government agencies involved in assessing your application.
  • The resources available to process your application.
  • Whether your application can be determined entirely under delegation, or whether it needs to be reported to a Council meeting.

What is the difference between planning approval and a construction certificate?

The simplest distinction is Planning Approval is an approval for a land use only, whilst a construction certificate is related to the physical construction details of a building or subdivision works.

How do I know if my property is bushfire prone?

Bushfire prone land maps for all local governments are available either online or at council offices. A 10.7 Certifiate issued by council also advises if your land is mapped as being bushfire prone. Be aware that even though all vegetation may have been removed for say an adjacent large land development, your land may still be mapped as being bushfire prone.