The cost of infrastructure needed for development could kill any profit… if it is a surprise

Leanne O’NeillLeanne O'Neill, Partner, and Diane Coffin, Special Counsel at Cooper Grace Ward, discuss the cost of infrastructure needed for development that could kill any profit, if it is a surprise. Diane Coffin


This may seem to be an obvious statement. However, in parts of South-East Queensland, ensuring that all the costs of infrastructure are at least understood, if not actually quantified, is complicated by the separation of responsibility for water supply and wastewater networks from local governments to two entities – Urban Utilities and Unitywater.

Both Urban Utilities[1] and Unitywater[2] are statutory authorities, called ‘distributor-retailers’, that were created in 2010 under the South-East Queensland Water (Distribution and Retail Restructuring) Act 2009. Since July 2014, Urban Utilities and Unitywater are the approval authorities for connections to their respective infrastructure networks. Developers from other parts of Queensland or Australia may be unaware of this quirk of development and could be caught out.

To ensure this doesn’t happen, we suggest the use of a services advice notice (SAN).

Services advice notices

One way to test the viability and to guard against unknown costs of a proposed development that will need to connect to Urban Utilities or Unitywater networks, is to request a SAN. A SAN is a form of advice akin to a pre-lodgement meeting with a Council and may include:

  • advice about the proposed connection having regard to the policy of Urban Utilities or Unitywater
  • the charges and conditions that may apply to the connection
  • any other relevant matter about the connection

As with a pre-lodgement meeting with a Council, the more information that can be provide with the request for a SAN, the more detailed, specific and useful the resulting advice is likely to be. At a minimum, a request for a SAN should be accompanied by a detailed description of the proposed development and some suggestion about how it is intended to connect to the water supply and wastewater networks.

Although a SAN is not binding on a decision of Urban Utilities or Unitywater, where there is a subsequent application for a water approval, the advice contained in a SAN can be an invaluable source of information when used appropriately and at the correct time. The timing of when you should seek a SAN is a critical step in the development assessment approval pathway and will vary depending the nature of the development.

Water approvals

As noted, a SAN is not binding on a subsequent application for a water approval. However, if used to best advantage, the advice received in the SAN can result in time and cost savings for the project by ensuring the preferred servicing solution is proposed when seeking the water approval. The SAN can also give your project an advantage when it comes time for detailed design. Many a project has wasted time and money designing in detail a servicing solution that was later refused.


Understanding the why, when and how of SANs and water approvals can increase the chances of a successful development and dramatically reduce the likelihood of expensive surprises late in a project’s life.

If you would like advice on your request for a SAN or application for a water approval, please contact Cooper Grace Ward’s property, planning and environment team.

As a partner in Cooper Grace Ward’s property, planning and environment team, Leanne advises on all aspects of land access, management and use for developers, resources companies, government and agribusinesses. Leanne brings 20 years’ experience, including nine years as a solicitor representing the State of Queensland in negotiations and litigation. She held several senior legal roles in the Queensland Government and provided high level advice and representation in land management and resources sector law.

Leanne advises developers on planning and development approvals and appeals under the Planning Act 2016, and compulsory acquisition and valuation law. She provides strategic advice and legal support to petroleum and resources companies on environmental, water, vegetation and biosecurity compliance, as well as native title and cultural heritage, and landholder access and compensation agreements. Leanne also advises agribusinesses and other major landholders on the diversification of land use and income streams, including environmental offsets, carbon sequestration, agistment, timber management, quarries and solar farms. You can speak with Leanne on LinkedIn.

As a special counsel in Cooper Grace Ward’s property, planning and environment team, Diane provides a wide range of legal advice and support to developers, local governments and statutory authorities. Diane has more than 15 years’ experience gained through legal roles both in private practice and in a major in-house legal department. She has regularly appeared in the Planning and Environment Court, undertaking numerous litigious matters on behalf of development corporations, local governments and special interest groups. She has also drafted and reviewed planning instruments, local laws and many types of agreements and deeds for local authorities in south east and rural Queensland. In addition, Diane has extensive experience in managing the development approvals process for major infrastructure and development projects. You can speak with Diane on LinkedIn

[1]          The Central SEQ Distributor-Retailer Authority (trading as Urban Utilities) provides water supply and wastewater services to the local government areas of Brisbane City Council, Ipswich City Council, Lockyer Valley Regional Council, Scenic Rim Regional Council and Somerset Regional Council.
[2]          The Northern SEQ Distributor-Retailer Authority (trading as Unitywater) provides water supply and wastewater services to the local government areas of Moreton Bay Regional Council, Noosa Shire Council and Sunshine Coast Regional Council.