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  • Albert Seefeld

Common town planning terms & their meanings

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

Development involving town planners may use language that is unfamiliar or even equivocal as each local government area (LGA) has their own Planning Schemes, which can result in varying definitions of terms. It may seem overwhelming or confusing that town planning terms are not consistent, however, town planners can help clarify any confusion regarding the language and terminology used within the industry.

In Queensland, most local councils use terms defined in the Planning Regulation 2017. However, the first resource to use if unsure of a word and/or its meaning, is the local planning scheme for that LGA.

If you are still unsure, a town planner can provide clarification regarding different terms and their meanings. A quick internet search may also help, but be mindful of overriding terms and the order of plans and policies in development.

To start off, this blog will cover the most common terms of town planning in development. Granted, these terms may be common knowledge to most, but a refresher is always helpful. Some terms include:

  • Development Application (DA): A Development Application is the package which is lodged to the local council, which contains the proposal overview, statutory forms, supporting documentation and relevant plans. The local council and the applicant have statutory timeframes to adhere to, throughout the whole process, until a decision notice has been issued.

  • Building Approval (BA): or building permit, is the legal document needed for most types of domestic building work before construction can start. BAs are obtained through local governments or building certifiers. Section 44 of the Building Regulation 2021, as well as the BA itself, addresses inspection requirements which underpin the criteria for compliance.

  • Decision Notice: is the written statement by the affected council which states if the DA is approved or not. It must provide evidence of reasoning with complete and constructive feedback on each of the non-compliant parts of the submitted DA against applicable plans and policies. This ensures accountability for councils and provides room for debate if the applicant can argue the submitted DA has more compliance than deemed by councils.

  • Development Permit (DP): is the part of the decision notice for DAs that authorize an assessable development, as defined in the Planning Act 2016. This means the DP is the legal document given by councils to the applicant that prove the submitted DA was approved.

  • Referral: usually an external referral, which means the DA is sent to other government agencies or other bodies (for example: the state, external stakeholders) if reasonably impacted by development. In QLD, the most common referral is SARA (State Assessment and Referral Agency) if developments impact a matter of state interest. Referrals can also be internal, meaning departments within a council may be involved in the assessment process. In addition, referrals may increase the time and costs it takes for developments to commence.

  • Due diligence: Like any sales contract, a period of due diligence is given to ensure the feasibility of a proposed development before undergoing costly and timely legal processes. This is important when dealing with infrastructure charges, associated council fees (such as application fees), and quoting all jobs involved throughout the entire development process. Hence, due diligence investigations can let the applicant decide if the proposed development is worth the time and costs likely to occur.

If you are unsure about a proposed development and want a professional opinion, send us an enquiry via

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