Can strata subdivision avoid minimum lot sizes in NSW?
Clause 4.1 of the standard instrument local environmental plan provides that the size of any lot resulting from a subdivision of land must not be less than the minimum lot size for the land shown on the Lot Size Map. Does the same minimum lot size apply if the proposed lots are to be created by the registration of a strata plan?
This question was considered by the Land and Environment Court in a decision handed down on 11 December 2017.
In DM & Longbow Pty Ltd v Willoughby City Council  NSWLEC 173, the applicant sought development consent for the conversion of an existing dwelling to a dual occupancy and the strata subdivision of the land into 2 lots (one for each unit) and one common lot.
The Council originally refused development consent for both developments but ultimately agreed that the dual occupancy development was acceptable. However, it maintained its opposition to the approval of the strata subdivision of the dual occupancy.
The Council argued that the lots proposed to be created were less than the minimum lot size for the land shown on the Lot Size Map and that the development standard setting the minimum lot size for the land was specified in clause 4.6 of the LEP as one that could not be varied. The applicant argued that the minimum lot size did not apply to the subdivision because of clause 4.1(4). That clause provides that clause 4.1 does not apply to the subdivision of individual lots in a strata plan or community title scheme.
The Council was successful before Commissioner Dixon who held that the subdivision was not capable of being approved. The applicant appealed arguing that clause 4.1(4) applied to all strata subdivisions, not only the subdivision of individual lots in an existing strata plan but also the creation of individual lots in a new strata plan, saying this was “the most obvious reading” of the phrase “the subdivision of lots in a strata plan” as that phrase is used in clause 4.1(4).
Preston CJ, however, preferred the Council’s interpretation of the provision. The Council had argued that clause 4.1(4) applied only to the subdivision of individual lots in an existing strata plan and not the subdivision of a lot to create a new strata plan. His Honour observed that the basic rules of statutory construction required the language of clause 4.1(4) to be read in context and having regard to the objective it was designed to promote, but that the primary focus must remain upon the text. His Honour found that the text of clause 4.1(4) was “clear and unambiguous” and that:
“The object of the action of subdivision is the ‘individual lots in a strata plan’. The subdivision is ‘of’ those lots. Those ‘individual lots’ must be ‘in a strata plan’. A ‘strata plan’ is ‘a plan that is registered as a strata plan’… It is a strata plan that is already in existence. If there is no strata plan yet in existence, there can be no individual lots ‘in a strata plan’ that can be subdivided.”
The Court held that the applicant’s proposed subdivision was not of land in an existing strata plan (it was land under the Real Property Act 1900) and that the subdivision was therefore not capable of being approved as the size of the lots to be created was less than the minimum lot size for the land specified on the Lot Size Map.
This decision highlights the need for Councils to consider whether different lot sizes should be specified in their local environmental plan for lots in strata plans. Not doing so will result in the general minimum lot size applying whether or not land is being subdivided by registration of a plan of subdivision or a strata plan.
If you need advice about strata subdivision, or would like to know more, please contact Alan Bradbury.