About building and development in Woollahra

The Woollahra Municipality

Our planning and development policies and strategies recognise the unique character of the various areas and precincts within our Municipality. They provide a holistic place based framework to guide and control new development in a sustainable manner. We are committed to sustainability through integrated planning and by the delivery of sustainable development through good urban design and development controls, conservation of our areas and buildings of environmental and heritage significance, enforcing environmental and planning laws and by providing customer focussed services.

This part of our website has been designed to help you understand the planning framework in which we operate, the rules which relate to new development and to assist you through the application process.

Our Municipality has unique and highly significant natural and built characteristics. Its landform includes the prominent cliff faces of Watsons Bay which form an entrance to Sydney Harbour, a mix of low lying harbour foreshore areas identified by numerous bays and, beyond those areas, land that rises gradually to a ridgeline along Old South Head Road and Oxford Street. The Municipality is a distinctly urban area and is one of Australia's most prestigious residential locations. It is substantially residential in nature, intermixed with shopping centres of various sizes, large and small recreational and open space areas and large private schools.

We have a diversity of dwelling types, including terrace houses, dual occupancies, town houses, and medium and high rise residential flat buildings. Despite this, the majority of our housing stock is provided in medium or high-density dwelling forms. In 2014, Council recorded 26,050 dwellings in Woollahra, with approximately 76% of all dwellings being multi-unit housing (generally residential flat buildings). 24% of all dwellings are listed in the category of detached houses, semi-detached houses and terrace houses.

Because of its highly established nature, new development generally occurs through alterations and additions and replacement of existing buildings with new buildings. This includes the transition from, generally, low scale houses to, mainly, three and four storey residential flat buildings in our R3 Medium Density Residential zoned areas; and new mixed retail, commercial and residential development in our town centres. The high land costs and the desire to maximise development yields often result in conflicts with development proposals.

Our key planning objectives are to protect important local characteristics and residential amenity, maintain housing choice and promote sustainable development.

Our planning framework

We have followed a place-based approach in preparing our planning controls to recognise the unique and distinctly different characteristics of different areas, suburbs and precincts of our Municipality. This has resulted in the adoption of a suite of place-based chapters in the Woollahra Development Control Plan 2015 providing a mix of specific and general development controls for different areas and, in some cases, individual streets. Therefore, the rules that apply in Vaucluse are different to those which apply in Paddington or within our commercial centres.

Heritage conservation

Our Municipality has a rich and a diverse history and natural setting that is represented in Victorian, Federation and inter-war buildings, precincts and streetscapes. Our environmental heritage has a local, regional and, in some cases, a nationally recognised level of significance. We have three main heritage conservation areas: Watsons Bay, Woollahra and Paddington. Smaller conservation areas are located in Vaucluse, Rose Bay, Bellevue Hill and Darling Point. We have over 700 heritage items, comprising individual buildings, structures, trees, and landscape features. These areas and items are protected by the Woollahra Local Environmental Plan 2014 and our place-based development control plans. Some items have protection on the State Heritage Register.

Urban design

Our residential and commercial centre development control plans were developed following detailed urban design studies. They require high quality design for projects on both public and private land. We expect that all new development will be of a high design quality and will complement the many excellent building designs in our Municipality from prominent architects and building designers.

Development assessment

Most applications relate to alterations and additions to existing houses or were for new houses. The remaining applications were mostly for changes of use, new residential flat buildings, office and retail development. Applications vary greatly in complexity from relatively minor works to multi-million dollar proposals that have potentially significant environmental impacts.

Most applications are advertised so that persons who may be affected have the opportunity to make submissions and to be heard before decisions are made. This results in a high level of public involvement and consideration in assessment and determination processes. Such matters will be generally determined by either a senior staff panel known as the Application Assessment Panel (AAP), or the Woollahra Local Planning Panel (WLPP) or Sydney Eastern City Planning Panel which are both panels made up of independent experts external to staff.


Our role in building and construction work varies depending on whether or not we are appointed as the Principal Certifier (PC). If we are appointed as the PC, we become the building inspector for the work. In this role, we carry out critical stage inspections during the construction works to ensure that building work progresses in accordance with the approved plans and conditions of consent. We are appointed the PC for about 9% of construction projects. Therefore, the building inspector for most construction projects is a private certifier. In this case, it is not our responsibility to ensure building and construction compliance but we still get involved in response to complaints and in cases where accredited certifiers do not adequately meet their inspection and compliance obligations.

Each year, we process and determine about 35 Construction Certificates (CCs). This is about 7% of all CCs processed as, again, most are issued by private certifiers.

Planning for the future

The Woollahra Local Strategic Planning Statement 2020 (Woollahra LSPS 2020) sets out a long term land use vision to guide how we plan for change over the next 20 years. It also links local planning and development to NSW Government plans and strategies.

The Woollahra LSPS 2020 is used to:

  • guide the preparation and review of strategies, policies and planning controls
  • guide assessment of planning proposals (such as rezoning applications)
  • inform collaboration with government agencies, other councils, businesses and organisations
  • inform future infrastructure and service planning.

The Woollahra LSPS 2020 is supported by the Woollahra Local Housing Strategy 2021(PDF, 14MB) (Woollahra LHS 2021) which sets out objectives and actions for housing and affordable housing across our area.

All planning proposals to amend the Woollahra LEP 2014 or applications to amend the Woollahra DCP 2015 must have regard to the Woollahra LSPS 2020 and the Woollahra LHS 2021.

Repealed_02_January_2019_-_Chapter_B3_General_Development_Controls.pdf(PDF, 3MB)