Complying Development (CDC) House construction site

“I’m Building through a Complying Development Certificate (CDC), and need Retaining Walls. Why do I need a Landscape Plan?”

What is Complying Development (CDC)?

The Complying Development Code (CDC) speeds up the approvals process. It takes the headache out of paperwork when building a house or commercial development. It provides a simple set of rules for the whole of NSW. Also it cuts out the council Development Application (DA) process.

That’s the story!

In reality, however, the Complying Development Code comes with many problems. This is particularly true for landscaping.

The Problem with Complying Development (CDC)

From a Landscape perspective the Complying Development Code (CDC) is a bit of a problem.

The problem is that CDC is designed mostly for large developers.

Big developers flatten out large areas of land, and build multiple houses on them all at once. As a result, things like slopes and retaining walls are an afterthought. The CDC rules around landscaping and retaining walls are simple, and vague. Which is great if you’re a big developer.

However, while actually building your house or commercial development is more simple under CDC, often the landscaping still needs to go through Council. Until the landscape works are approved, many Private Certifiers will refuse to give Certification for Occupation Certificate.

You have a house, but you can’t move into it yet!

Another problem is that in most council areas the Development Control Plan (DCP) disagrees with the Complying Development Code. As a result, you will often find that Cut and Fill allowed through CDC is not allowed to be held back by a Retaining Wall of the same height when going through council.

For example

In Box Hill and North Kellyville of the Hills Shire, the maximum height of a retaining wall under the DCP is 500mm. Under CDC, up to 3 metres of Cut is allowed!

How do you retain 3 metres of cut with a 500mm high wall?

You see this same problem in many of the growth centres of Sydney. Areas like Liverpool, Campbelltown, Penrith and Camden often have this problem.

Builders, Clients, and Complying Development

Many people build through a House and Land package.

For many builders Complying Development has been a fantastic gift. As a result of it they can do away with the DA process and move straight on to building.

When it works, this idea is fantastic.

The problem comes when they hit sloping land. They can Cut and Fill as needed to get your house or factory built. However they often can’t Retain that cut and fill. The Certifier won’t sign off until there are Approved Retaining Walls.

The builder doesn’t have a problem with this because their contract states they are finished when they hand you the keys.

This now becomes your problem!

Your plans probably show a retaining wall. However, it has a note that says something like “Retaining wall by client after handover”. This leaves you with a set of keys and an “Interim Occupation Certificate”. You probably have a letter from the Certifier telling you that you need landscaping built to an Approved Landscape Plan.

And you probably have 3 months to comply!

Can I build my retaining walls through Complying Development?

The answer to that questions is Yes…….and No.

The full name of the Complying Development Code is the “State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) 2008”.

Under this legislation there are lots of different rules for building, landscaping, and retaining walls. However, for this discussion, the rules are fairly simple.

You can build retaining walls under CDC, but generally they have to be a certain distance off the boundary. This is usually at least 1 metre, though it can change depending on the height of the wall.

The other problem is that they usually have to be at least 2 metres away from any other structure or retaining wall.

This is where the CDC is a problem for retaining walls.

Most residential blocks in Sydney, or even in outlying towns, are not big enough to allow you to put your retaining walls 2 metres away from everything else.

Therefore, if your wall is closer than the 2 metre cut-off, you simply can’t comply with the rules.

You will not be able to get certification for them.

The Solution

Councils are aware of these problems. And they have experience in dealing with this issue. They regularly have to bring together buildings and landscapes approved under two different pieces of legislation.

This does NOT mean they will let you do anything you want!

Instead it means they give you a little flexibility when assessing landscape designs for CDC built homes and developments.

What Can We Do?

Thankfully for you D.A. Landscape Plans has dealt with many of these types of development. After the builder has constructed their house, we have helped dozens of clients through the Development Application process.

The outcome depends on the situation.

If the block is not too steep, then it can be as simple as specifying landscape works for council to approve.

If it is more complicated, then we can talk through a number of different solutions.

We always try to find the outcome that is best for the client, yet makes the application process as quick and simple as possible.

We have experience communicating between builders, councils, hydraulic engineers, and clients to make sure we get the best possible outcome.

Our objective is to bring together our clients desires with the what the council rules will allow, and do it in the shortest amount of time possible.

What will it Cost?

As always with these things, the price depends on the job.

Obviously some jobs are Simple, and some jobs are more Complex. Some sites are Small and some are Amazingly Large.

We always try to give a Firm Quote for the work, so you know where you stand. You have nothing to lose by giving us a call or sending an email.

To discuss your personal situation feel free to call us on 0468400149

or email at

Or just use the CONTACT page.


I am very happy with Chris.
We had a problem with our builder. He did landscape we didn’t approve. Chris helped do Section 4.55 and now we have landscape we want. Very easy.

Hills Council
Box Hill

I’m awfully grateful to Chris. We were knocking down our old house and building a dual occupancy for my parents to live beside us, and council was giving us such a hard time. Chris was so helpful throughout the process, we had to come back over and over again, and he never complained. Thanks, Chris


Chris was a very good choice for us. He understood what we wanted and was very fast. Thankyou

Michael Chen

I am very grateful for your wonderful service. We look forward to our new home

North Kellyville

Chris was great to deal with. We only wanted a simple plan, just to get through council, and he understood immediately what we were looking for. A very simple process.

Neil Jacobson
Hills Shire Council

We built our house through complying development and the builder left us with a mess. Chris helped us go through council to get a landscape we were happy with. Very happy. Thank you


We share the same name, but I’m glad I had the other Chris on my side.