Last Updated: 13th December, 2022


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Planning and development legislation is highly regulated in Australia and laws vary greatly between each state and Local Government Area (LGA).

If you’re looking to undertake a residential or a commercial development you may sometimes find yourself fighting tooth and nail to get your development application (DA) approved, no pun intended.

But when do you need to apply for a DA? Are there exemptions? And what happens if you fail to comply?

When do you need a development application?

If your proposed development is ‘permitted with consent’ then you will have to lodge a DA application with your council.

A DA is generally required for the following types of developments.

For residential building works

  • Alterations and addition to existing dwellings (less than 3 storeys).
  • Single new dwellings (less than 3 storeys).
  • Dual occupancy dwellings.
  • Granny flats.
  • Garages and carports.
  • Ancillary outbuildings.

Developments that include a block of units, apartments or villas require a ‘multiple dwelling’ to be submitted.

For commercial building works

  • Commercial office fit-outs.
  • Commercial shopfront renovations.
  • Signage and advertising structures.
  • If building work is required for the opening of a small bar, pub, club, cafe, restaurant or takeaway shop.
  • The removal or pruning of trees above 5m in height, a canopy spread over 5m or a trunk diameter of more than 300mmm, at ground level.

Do you qualify for residential or commercial development loan?

Call 1300 889 743 or fill in our online enquiry form to speak to a commercial specialist about your building project.

How can I be sure I don’t need a DA?

Although it may vary slightly between councils and LGAs, you can generally:

  • Search the planning rules for your property: There is usually an easy-to-use search bar on our local council website. It will tell you whether the development is permitted with consent, permitted without consent or prohibited.
  • Speak to a duty planner: They can tell you if a pre-lodgement meeting is needed for your development.
  • Get more info at a pre-lodgement meeting: If a meeting is required then the duty planner will look at the basics of your development plan and let you know what documents require for the DA. This meeting is typically free and you’ll get an idea of whether the DA will be approved or not.

When you don’t need a development application

Your local council website typically provides a list of development application exemptions that apply as long as the particular building works meet specific guidelines.

For example, the NSW government doesn’t require a DA when building a balcony or deck for a residential property, as long as it meets the following requirements:

  • Maximum area of 25m2.
  • If the lot is larger than 300m2, the maximum floor area for all balconies, decks, patios, pergolas, terraces and verandahs is 15% of the ground floor area of the dwelling.
  • The deck must be located behind the building line fronting any road.
  • The floor level must not be higher than 1m above ground level (existing).
  • An enclosing wall above 1.4m is prohibited without proper approval.
  • If it is a roofed structure attached to a dwelling, the balcony must not extend above the dwelling’s roof gutter line.
  • If the property is in a bushfire zone and within 5 metres of a dwelling, approved non-combustible materials must be used.
  • If the property is heritage listed or located in a Heritage Conservation Area, the deck must be located behind the building line of any road frontage.

There are other requirements relating to rural zoning so you should check with your local council about specific requirements.

Similarly, you don’t need a DA for certain commercial developments as long as you meet specific rules set out in the State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) 2008 (NSW) or your state’s equivalent.

For example, if you bought office premises and wanted to them fit-out for a different use, you can do so without a DA as long as you meet certain requirements. Some of them are listed below:

  • You can change the office premises to business premises, shop or a kiosk (some high impact uses are restricted).
  • Current use must be lawful.
  • New use must not result in a change of building classification under the Building Code of Australia.

Again, these exemptions only apply to NSW so it’s important to check with your specific LGA.

What happens if you breach planning rules?

It all depends on whether the development or demolition is permitted and you just haven’t got a DA or whether the work you want to undertake is completely prohibited.

Failure to obtain proper planning approval prior to commencing your development can result in massive fines.

The Environment Planning & Assessment Act 1979, for example, sets penalties of up to $1.1 million for unauthorised or non-complying developments.

Depending on the council and the extent of the development work, you can be issued an on-the-spot infringement notice for each breach that you commit up to $1,500 (for individuals) and $3,000 (for companies).

Councils can also order demolition or removal of any unauthorised building work, as per approved development policies and regulations for your LGA.

How does the DA application process work?

Firstly, you’ll mostly be dealing with the development advisory unit (DAU) or planning unit in your LGA.

The following steps usually apply when completing a development application:

  • Complete DA application: You can find this form on the council website. Be as detailed as possible and answer all of the questions council asks in the form. Once completed, you need to submit you DA to your council’s equivalent customer service desk at your civic centre between business hours. There is usually a fee that applies when you submit a DA but this varies between councils so it’s best to check with them for an estimate, typically during the pre-lodgement meeting.
  • After you submit: You will be assigned a DA number and some development applications will actually be on exhibition for public comment depending on the nature and scale of the development. You will have to address any objections to the development yourself, after which the development will either be conditionally approved or declined.
  • Site inspections: Site inspections will be undertaken throughout the DA approval process and your application will often be sent to other departments, such as civil engineers and architectural officers, for review. They’re mostly concerned that the LGAs current sewerage, water, electricity and road infrastructure can accommodate the new development.
  • Obtain a construction certificate: Once your DA is approved, you’ll need to organise for a construction certificate before you can put hammer to nail.
  • Apply for an appeal: If your DA application is knocked back, there are avenues to appeal your council’s decision with your state’s equivalent Environment, Resources and Development (ERD) Court (SA). For New South Wales, this would be Land and Environment Court (NSW) and, for Victoria, this would be the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

What do I need to include with my DA?

Essential documents and information

Owners’ consent

You’ll need to get consent from all registered owners of the property that you’re renovating or doing construction work on.

If a company owns the property, the company stamp or seal is required. If the building is subject to strata, the owner’s corporation seal and authorised signatures are required.

Details of the development

What renovation or construction work will you be undertaking?

Provide a site plan showing the location, elevations and sections of the development, as well as the development in relation to adjoining premises.

Typically, any new work (proposed development) will need to be distinctly coloured so council knows the extent of the development.

It’s important that the plans you provide are final and approved by an architect and only subject to council approval.

Drawings must be to scale, normally at 1:100 on A3 sized paper, and suitably numbered, titled and dated. They are to be folded to A4 size with the title block to the front.

Statement of Environmental Effects (SEE)

You need to detail any expected impact of the development on the environment, adjoining premises or to the public.

For example, you may be prohibited from removing certain endangered trees, plants or shrubs and, instead, be required to incorporate them into your design plans. An independent arborist report may sometimes be required along with the SEE.

Additional information that may be required

Heritage impact statement

Is the building and land on which the property is located heritage-listed? You need to detail the impact of the development on the area.

Floor area

Details of the existing floor area and any additions you plan to make to the floor area needs to be detailed.


Photographs and details of the age and condition of the property to be knocked down need to be attached.

Electricity Act Declaration Form

In some states, including SA, DAs must include an Electricity Act Declaration stating that any proposed dwelling or building will not be constructed within a specific setback distance from power lines.

Flood study

If the land is subject to flooding, council will let you know if a flood study is required.

Bushfire study

If the land is bushfire prone, council will let you know if a bushfire study is required.

Geotechnical report

Unstable land may require you to supply a geotechnical report from a qualified geotechnical engineer.

Developments over $5 million

Major development works, whether it’s residential or commercial in nature, will generally require you to provide more information such as the construction materials to be used and much more detail on plans and diagrams.

Depending on your council. you may even need to provide a 3D electronic model of the proposed development.

Rural developments

Sewerage line connection

The LGA will determine whether you’re required to connect to an urban sewer or construct an on-site effluent disposal.

How long will the DA approval process take?

A number of councils have a maximum time period of 60 days for DA approval but how long your DA application will take to be reviewed will vary depending on your LGA and the complexity of your development.

In spite of this, most DA applications actually get delayed because they’ve been incorrectly completed.

The most common mistakes are:

  • Not taking into account known site constraints such as pre-planned state government infrastructure projects that will affect the timeline in which your development can go ahead, if at all.
  • Missing deadlines on particular milestones during the assessment process.
  • Providing incorrect landowner details. This is the person or company listed on the rates notice so get it right the first time!

Do you have your professional team together?

You’ll usually be dealing with the following professionals during the construction process anyway.

However, failing to consult with experts can often put your DA application in jeopardy:

  • Draftsman/engineer: $5,000 to $15,000 or on percentage of projected construction costs (6-12%).
  • Town planner: $3,000-$4,000.
  • Hydraulics engineer: They provide a flood study if required with quotes ranging from $2,000-$5,000.
  • Stormwater engineer: They can provide drainage and stormwater solutions with quotes ranging from $3,000-$7,000.
  • Geotechnical engineer: $4,000-$5,000.
  • Surveyor: $3,000-$10,000.

What are the planning regulations for my state?

Council is typically required to implement both state and federal building regulations at a local level.

These state regulations are as follows:

  • Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 – NSW
  • Planning and Environment Act 1987 – Victoria
  • Sustainable Planning Act 2009 – QLD
  • Planning and Development (Bilateral Agreement) Amendment Act 2014 – ACT
  • Land Use Planning and Approvals Act 1993 – Tasmania
  • Environmental Assessment Act 2013 – QLD
  • Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act 2016 – South Australia
  • Planning and Development Act 2005 (WA) – Western Australia

Do you need a development loan?

We’re experts in residential and commercial developments!

Call us on 1300 889 743 or complete our free assessment form and we can let you know how much you can borrow to get your project off the ground and start earning some return on your investment.