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How to talk to local government about your new SME premises

Many small business owners are unaware that they may be required to obtain various local government approvals for their new premises, to ensure they are operating in compliance with the relevant planning, building and health legislation. Here’s how to avoid costly and disruptive mistakes.

It’s an exciting time for your business. You have a strong business plan, are ready to take the leap into a brick and mortar premises, and have found the perfect location for your business. All you need to do is sign on the dotted line to make your dream a reality – right?

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The enthusiasm of finding the perfect commercial premises or even converting a residential property to use for your business can sometimes see small business owners skip some important steps. One of the most important ones is ensuring that you have checked with your local government about relevant approvals you will need and what you can and can’t do at your prospective location.

What is the local government’s role in your business?

Aside from local governments creating placemaking strategies and economic development opportunities to attract the public and businesses to their areas, they are also responsible for administering appropriate planning controls for land use and development; and making sure businesses and residents comply with the Public Health Act 2016 and The Building Act 2011. In order to do this, they prepare local planning schemes and strategies and administer regulations including:

  • development (planning) approvals
  • building codes
  • health regulations
  • local licenses and permits

When it comes to any new business premises within their area, they need to ensure that:

  • It is compatible with the local planning scheme’s land use and WA Planning requirements.
  • The design, layout and internal fit-out meets the fire safety and accessibility requirements of the Building Code of Australia and is structurally sound.
  • The premises meets all applicable health requirements across various legislation (food and beverage, noise, public building, accommodation and sanitation).

Your local authority will make the final decision on whether your new premises needs any approvals in order to operate your business.

Can you change a property to suit your business?

If you are planning to retrofit an old building to suit your needs, or make improvements to a previously established business, you will need to discuss your situation with your local government.

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They are the best authority to advise you about what approvals and technical advice, such as acoustic or traffic management plans, could be required, based on your location. They can also advise you on what other agencies (for example the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries – Liquor Licensing or the Water Corporation) will need to be involved in your planning.

What if you are continuing an existing business as a new owner?

One of the great misconceptions of purchasing an established business is that you can continue to trade under the new ownership. The ‘change of use’ of a premises or ‘change of ownership’ of a business may trigger the requirement for reapplication. Sometimes even the smallest changes to operating hours, customer numbers or advertising signs will need approval.

What do you need to do?

Once you have identified a potential location for your business, contact your local government as soon as possible to discuss your ideas and get advice before you sign a lease, purchase property or buy an established businesses.

Opening up without discussing your business plans and receiving approval for your intended operations beforehand, could result in additional and costly works, application refusals, or a closure order. All of these could hold up your ability to trade and generate much needed income.

Speak to your local government first to be fully aware of what approvals you will need for your new premises, and what it will cost to meet the regulatory requirements to keep yourself, staff and customers safe.

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