For the sake of simplicity this article refers generically to all architectural design professionals as architects. This is by no means intended to discredit either Registered Architects or Building Designers, and their similarities or unique differences as practicing professionals. 


Most architectural projects require regulatory approval, or consent, either by a Local Government authority (Council) of the area, or a Private Certifier if the project conforms to the strict requirements of a complying development.

Fir example: In NSW, there are numerous State Environment Planning Policies (SEPP) that have been developed to control the standards of development in numerous forms of residential design and approval.

Development Legislation

Development/planning legislation is developed by each level of government in Australia Federal, State, and Local Government. The Development approval process and its interpretation, as well as its cultural and locational adaption, is enforced by Local Government authorities. Therefore, planning legislation may differ widely between councils, and states of Australia.

For example, two projects only one street apart can have different requirements and guidelines based on the Local Government’s planning documentation. Therefore it is recommended to undertake a feasibility study, analysing all of the planning requirements at the commencement of every project to ensure you are aware of the requirements and restrictions that govern whether your architectural designs are able to be approved.

Click here for more information on Australian Legislation for Architecture.

In NSW, the NSW Planning Portal is the first place of reference to gather information about your project site. The planning portal provides you a brief overview of all the requirements and/or restrictions pertaining to the property. From here it links to the various policies and planning documents of legislation appropriate for the jurisdiction of the Local Government Area (LGA) of your project that you will have to refer to when commencing your feasibility study. These include:

  • Development Control Plan (DCP)
  • Local Environmental Plan (LEP)
  • State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPP)

 There are two (2) main avenues for a design to be approved for construction are:

  • Development Application (DA)/ Construction Certificate (CC)
  • Complying Development Certificate (CDC) 

Development Application (DA)/ Construction Certificate (CC) Process

There are 6 stages of consent required for DA/CC process through to completion of construction:

Stage 1 – Pre-lodgement

The Pre-lodgement stage is an optional step before lodgement of a formal Development Application (DA). Meeting with a planning officer from Council before lodging the DA will allow you to present your design ideas for feedback, and be advised of any elements that do not meet the legislation requirements in the LEP and DCP.

Stage 2 – Development Application (DA) Lodgement

Along with the DA application form, each council will provide a checklist of all the documentation (including digital & printing requirements) that will need to be provided to lodge the application. Each council may also have various means of lodgement such as mixture of hard and soft copy documentation or online lodgement.

Stage 3 – Assessment

Development Applications (DA's) must be formally assessed by the council. This stage includes notification to the public and neighbours of the proposed  application, and allows a period of feedback (normally 2 weeks) on the design before it is undergoes assessment by the planning officer against all of the regulations and requirements.

Stage 4 – Determination

Once reviewed, applications with will be approved (granted) or rejected (denied). Determination can also be deferred, or the assessment placed ‘on hold’, requiring the architect to provide further information or changes in order to make the design meet the requirements.

Stage 5 – Construction Certificate (CC)  

The construction certificate approval process can be either conducted by council or a private certifier. This approval will outline all the requirements that must be met during the process of construction for the building to be approved as complete, suitable for safe occupation or use. This certificate is required to be issued before construction can commence.

Stage 6 – Occupation Certificate

An Occupation Certificate (OC) is the final approval process of construction, meaning the project has met the requirements stated in the Construction Certificate is no longer subject to construction monitoring and approval of the certifying authority engaged in stage 5. Staged occupation certificates can be issued before full completion (Interim occupancy), to allow the use of the building (in part) whilst it is still being constructed.   

For more information click the link to the NSW Government fact sheet on Occupation Certificates 

Complying Development Certificate (CDC) Process

Complying Development Certificates can be approved by a Private Certifier. There is a set list of requirements for which a design can be approved as a Complying Development. If there is any element of the design that does not meet the set requirements, or there is other legislative restrictions that prevent CDC approval for the area, then the normal DA/CC approval process will need to be undertaken.

The processing times of Complying Developments can be quicker, based on the staff ratios, and income turnover potential desired by private business. Therefore, if eligible for complying development, you may want to consider the option, and how it will impact upon the design. It is important to discuss the potential advantages and disadvantages of this process with your clients.   

For more information, click on the link to the NSW Planning Portal’s page on Complying Development Certificates



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The information contained in the article and website are general in nature and are the opinions of the author, through his professional experience and study. This should not be substituted for seeking professional or legal advice in this area. Click here for more details of our content.