Understanding exempt development

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If you're thinking about renovating your home or undertaking a minor development on your property, you may not need planning approval from your local council if your building project is classified as an exempt development.

While most developments will require planning approval from your local council before they can be built, there are many kinds of minor developments that do noti. These types of developments, known as 'exempt developments', are permissible for building without consent due to their low environmental impactii.

You may not need planning approval from your local council if your renovation or building project is classified as an exempt development.

The criteria for determining what is considered to be an exempt development is dictated by the relevant planning legislation of each individual state. Generally speaking, an exempt development is a minor building addition or alteration that is deemed to have a low impact upon the environment and the residents of the areai. Examples of such developments may include:

It is important to keep in mind that all states have a different understanding of what constitutes an exempt development; while a certain type of development may be permissible without consent in one state, this may not be the case in another. To determine whether your building project is considered to be an exempt development, contact your local council and ask to speak with the planning department for advice before starting a project.

Another point to remember is that exempt developments are still subject to specific conditions and limitations; constructing an exempt development does not automatically grant you free reign over the size, design or function of the developmentiv. Make sure you check the conditions surrounding the type of development you wish to build before assuming you will not require any kind of planning approval. For example, you might find out through word of mouth that swimming pools are considered to be an exempt development in South Australia. This is true to some extent - however, only pools with a depth of less than 30cm can be constructed in South Australia without planning or building consentv.

Once you've gotten confirmation that your building project is considered to be an exempt development, you still have a few obligations to meet. Firstly, any building work you carry out must comply with the Building Code of Australiavi. Secondly, the development must not breach any legislation relevant to the area; for example, heritage acts or tree protection actsvii.

Check with your local council about whether your project can be classed as an exempt development before you start building.

Even if your building project is exempt from planning approval, you may still require a building approval (also known as a construction certificate or building permit) before you commence any workviii. Planning approval is the permission granted for specific land use or development, whereas building approval relates to the approval for the construction of the building or developmentviii. Again, your local council would be the best place to get clarification about whether or not you will require building approval.

While it is a relief to know that you can most likely build a cubby house for the kids without gaining planning approval, make sure you do some background research into the planning rules in your state before doing so.

If you have spoken with your local council and are still in doubt about whether your building project is classed as an exempt development, you can contact your state planning authority for further advice:

New South Wales

Department of Planning & Environment
Call 1300 305 695 or email codes@planning.nsw.gov.au
Click here to download a fact sheet on exempt development in NSW


Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure
Call (03) 9208 3333
Click here for information on building and planning permits in Victoria


Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning
Call 13 QGOV (13 74 68) or email info@dsdip.qld.gov.au
Click here to download a fact sheet on exempt development in Queensland

Australian Capital Territory

Planning and Land Authority - Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate
Call (02) 6207 1923
Click here for more information on exempt development in the ACT

South Australia

Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure
Call (08) 8343 2222 or email DPTI.enquiriesadministrator@sa.gov.au
Click here to download a fact sheet on exempt development in South Australia

Western Australia

Western Australian Planning Commission
Call (08) 6551 9000

Northern Territory

Land and Planning Services - Department of Lands, Planning and the Environment
Call (08) 8999 6046 or email bas.lpe@nt.gov.au


Tasmanian Planning Commission
Call (03) 6165 6828 or email enquiry@planning.tas.gov.au

iDepartment of Planning and Environment, Exempt and Complying Development Policy, viewed 22 August 2014,

iiAustLII, 'What development is exempt development?', State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) 2008, viewed 2 June 2014,

iiiDepartment of Planning and Infrastructure, Understanding exempt development, viewed 2 June 2014,

ivDepartment of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure, 'Exempt development', Streamlining Planning Assessment – Guide to complying development (Residential Code), exempt development and development requiring building consent only, Viewed 2 June 2014,

vGlenorchy City Council, 'Approvals and permits', viewed 2 June 2014,

viACT Planning and Land Authority, 'Exempt development', viewed 2 June 2014,

viiBrisbane City Council, 'Exempt development', viewed 2 June 2014,

viiiBuilding Commission of Victoria, Different between building permits and planning permits, viewed 22 August 2014,