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Planning permit vs. building permit: what’s the difference?

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Before you can start a home renovation or a new construction project in Australia, you will likely need a planning permit or a building permit. In some cases, you will need to get both. 

Building permits are required to proceed with construction. Meanwhile, planning permits are legal documents that show you have permission to use or develop a certain piece of land.

In this guide, we’ll explain the details about these two types of permits in-depth. We’ll also help you understand the steps you need to follow in order to obtain them.

Let’s begin! 

planning permit vs building permit

Planning permit vs. Building permit: at a glance

Planning permits and building permits are two different documents and must be applied for separately. Here are their key differences:

Planning permit

Building permit

Definition: Legal documents that show you have permission to use or develop land for a specific purpose

Definition: Legal documents that show you are approved to carry out construction or renovation

Purpose: Shows that your proposal is in line with the council’s planning scheme and the state’s planning legislation

Purpose: Ensures that your construction plans comply with Australia’s building codes and local regulations

Process: Must be obtained before getting a building permit

Process: Must be consistent with the requirements of the planning permit

Issuing body: Local council

Issuing body: Local council or a private building surveyor

Generally required for:

Subdividing land

Building more than two dwellings

Pruning or removing trees

Installing a satellite dish

Developing rural areas

Displaying a sign

Starting business operations

Generally required for:

Building extensions and home renovations

Building pergolas, sheds, carports, and garages

Adding retaining walls

Restumping existing buildings

What is a planning permit?

Planning permits show that you have permission to use the land in line with local and state zoning and planning schemes. It also takes into consideration whether or not the development has a negative impact on the neighbourhood and the environment. 

You’re required to have a planning permit before you can obtain a building permit, though you can apply for both at the same time.

When do you need a planning permit?

Whether or not you need a planning permit depends on the following:

  • the type of development you’re proposing
  • the location and size of your property
  • how the structure will be used

Most new developments require both a planning permit and a building permit. Still, it’s best to call or email your local Statutory Planning Department to confirm which permits you will need in order to proceed with your project.

building designer discussing house plans

How to apply for a planning permit

Here is a general guide to applying for a planning permit. Keep in mind that steps may vary depending on your local council.

Step 1: Check local policies

Before applying for a planning permit, check the policies that apply to your proposed development or building site. Try the following:

  • Getting a copy of your Certificate of Title
  • Checking the property information online regarding zoning, overlays, and heritage controls
  • Reading your local planning scheme to learn how the land can be used and developed
  • Seeking advice from your local Statutory Planning Team

Step 2: Do a site analysis

Once you’ve reviewed the local planning policies regarding your proposal, check with your neighbours if they approve of your project. If they are fine with it, ask a land surveyor to complete a site analysis. They can create a site description and illustrate the characteristics of the site and its surrounding areas.

Step 3: Request sketch plans

After inspection, you can enlist the help of a professional to create sketch site plans for the proposed development. These plans should show how the new structure relates to the surrounding areas.

At Superdraft, we can help you find a skilled building designer or draftsman who can create high-quality and detailed construction drawings. Get a free quote for this service today!

Step 4: Book a pre-application meeting

Book a pre-application meeting with your local council. A planning liaison officer should be able to give you advice if your application is on the right track or if you need to prepare additional documents.

Step 5: Gather and prepare the required documents

After you’re done with the pre-application meeting, it’s time to gather all the required documents, such as:

  • Cover letter: This should have an explanation regarding your proposal 
  • Planning Permit application form: You can get a copy of this from your local council
  • Certificate of Title: the document should not be more than 28 days old
  • Neighbourhood and site description
  • Electronic copy of house plans (drawn to scale)

Step 6: Submit your application

Once you’ve gathered all the necessary documents, submit your application to the local council. Some local councils prefer to receive applications in electronic format, so check their websites for more information. Afterwards, pay the application fee.

inspection for planning permit

What is a building permit?

Building permits show that your construction plans and methods are approved by the local council. Prior to approval, the council reviews your house plans to ensure that they comply with the Building Code of Australia and other relevant guidelines. The council checks the plans to ensure that your future house or building is structurally sound, safe, and independently inspected.

When do you need a building permit?

A building permit is required before demolition or construction commences. House plans must be reviewed and approved by your local council or a private building surveyor.

You usually only need a building permit to alter or extend an existing dwelling. However, you need to confirm this with your local council, since they may have different zoning and overlay rules. For instance, if you own a heritage home, you may still require planning approval as well as building approval, even though you’re only making small alterations.

Some types of projects don’t require a building permit, such as adding small tool sheds (below 10 square metres) or fences (below two metres high). However, keep in mind that rules vary per state and may change regularly, so it’s still better to check with your local council if you need a building permit for your home renovation project.

How to apply for a building permit

Your local council or a private building surveyor can issue a building permit. Here is a general guide to getting one.

Step 1: Consult an expert

Before applying for a building permit, ask a building designer or a draftsman to create technical drawings. You can also consult a building surveyor for technical advice. This helps make sure that your building design meets building codes and guidelines.

At Superdraft, we have a network of experienced professionals who can create detailed construction plans. Get in touch with us to find a building designer or a draftsman near you.

Step 2: Prepare relevant documents

Gather all the relevant documentation. Here are some of the documents you may need:

  • Site plan (1:500 scale)
  • Structural information
  • Floor plan (1:100 scale)
  • Elevations
  • Sectional drawings
  • Land title 
  • Subdivision plan
  • Additional documents may be required, depending on the planned project

Step 3: Submit the application

Submit your application by emailing the documents to your local council. You should also send a hard copy to the council office.

Step 4: Pay the lodgement fee

Contact your council’s Building services team to pay for lodgment fees. You may need to pay more if you’re an owner-builder.

Step 5: Provide additional information if necessary

The local council will usually respond to your application within two weeks. During this period, they may contact you via phone or email to request additional information.

Step 6: Get your building permit

If your application meets the local council guidelines, you should receive your building permit in the mail. The permit will have information about any inspections that you should conduct before, during, or after construction. The council will also attach the endorsed drawings.

Step 7: Check if other permits are necessary

Depending on the project you’re proposing, you may still need to apply for other types of permits. Check your local council website if you need any of the following:

  • Report and Consent
  • Road or Footpath Occupancy Permit
  • Tree Protection Law Permit
  • Vehicular Crossover Permit

Step 8: Start building

Proceed with the construction based on endorsed plans.

Step 9: Schedule an initial building inspection

Check your building permit for instructions on how to set up an appointment for your first building inspection. On the appointed day, the inspector will check if all the work has been carried out in accordance with the permit. 

Step 10: Check the report for additional adjustments

In some cases, the inspector may provide a Direction to Fix order. Your builders should make adjustments based on the inspector’s instructions. Make sure to complete them within the required timeframe.

Step 11: Apply for an Occupancy permit

Once the adjustments have been made, schedule a final inspection. In some cases, you may need to submit an Application for Occupancy permit. 

Step 12: Get the finalised certificates

The local council should provide you with a Certificate of Final Inspection or a Certificate of Occupancy to show that construction work has been completed and finalised. This will also show that the property has been inspected and is safe for you to live in.

Frequently asked questions

Getting a planning permit or a building permit can be a confusing process. Thankfully, we’re here to help! Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions on this matter:

How long will the planning permit process take?

In most cases, the process will take 1-4 months. More complex projects may take 5-12 months. Factors affecting the length of time include objections, requests for further information, and referral of the application to other authorities.

How long will the planning permit be valid?

The owner or developer must start construction within 2 years of the permit grant date and complete construction within 4 years unless the permit states otherwise. You can request an extension within 6 months after the permit expires if you need more time to complete your project.

Can I ask to amend a planning permit?

Contact your local council if you wish to make minor amendments that won’t likely cause detriment to other properties. They can grant permission by sending a document called “Secondary Consent.”

If you want to make major changes to the approved plans, you need to send an application to amend a planning permit. Contact your town planning liaison officer for more information.

Do I need a planning permit to subdivide a property?

Yes. You need to secure a planning permit to subdivide any property. Check minimum lot sizes for subdivision as well as the relevant zones, schedules, and overlays that apply to your property. Consult a town planner to find out if you are eligible to subdivide your land.

What if I don’t apply for a building permit?

Starting construction or home renovation without a building permit may require you to face the following penalties:

  • Getting a stop-work notice
  • Paying fines of several thousands of dollars
  • Prosecution for criminal offences
  • Receiving court-ordered injunctions to restrain or remedy breaches
  • Demolishing completed building works

In some cases, not getting building approval may also affect future sales or may also render the home insurance invalid.

Get permits for your project now

A planning permit is a legal document that shows you have permission to use or develop a certain parcel of land in line with state or local regulations. Meanwhile, a building permit is a separate document that shows that your construction plans have been independently assessed and approved by your local council. Some types of projects, especially those that require building new structures, will require both of these permits before any demolition or construction work can begin.

Whether you need a planning permit or a building permit, Superdraft can help. We can also help you with the following:

  • Gather and submit requirements to get planning and building permits
  • Find qualified and responsive building designers or draftsmen 
  • Get matched with a team of skilled builders
  • Manage and keep track of the project through our easy-to-use project planning dashboard

Sign up for our free project planning and coordination platform now!

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