Development applications and how they are assessed

From 31 July 2020 development applications lodged in Rural councils and for development on land not within a council area must be lodged under the new planning legislation.
Visit PlanSA portal for more information.

Developments in Urban and metropolitan councils will continue to be assessed under current legislation.

Each council has a development plan containing the planning policies that apply in that area. Applications for development plan consent and land division consent are assessed against the policies in the development plan.

The policies may be:

  • council wide (applying across the entire council area)
  • specific to a zone
  • specific to a sub-area within a zone (such as a policy area or precinct).

Applications for building consent are assessed against the Building Rules, including the Building Code of Australia and any relevant Minister's Specifications.

The assessment process and the authority responsible for the assessment can vary, depending on the type of development being proposed. The process and authority are determined by the Development Act 1993 and the Development Regulations 2008 .

Assessment authorities

Most development applications are lodged with and assessed by the council for the area in which the development is to be undertaken. In planning terms, the council is the relevant authority. Where the residential code is applicable, a private certifier may also undertake the assessment.

Large or complex developments, developments involving land division or for areas located outside of a council area, applications are lodged with and assessed by the State Commission Assessment Panel (SCAP) is the relevant authority.

For building rules assessment, the relevant authority can be the council, the SCAP (where applicable) or a private certifier.

Types of development

Developments are classified in one of three ways:

1. Complying

Complying developments are listed in development plans (or specified in the regulations as complying). Complying developments are considered to have a low level of impact on the surrounding area. An assessment authority cannot withhold approval for a complying development.

If a proposed development meets all but one of the criteria necessary for the development to comply, that one aspect is assessed on its merits.

2. Non-complying

Non-complying developments are listed in development plans. Non-complying developments are land uses that are not envisaged or encouraged in the area because they are inconsistent with the objectives and principles of a zone or policy area, for instance an industrial development in a residential zone or a high-rise building in a heritage policy area. Non-complying development is approved only under special circumstances.

Applicants should get advice from the assessment authority (council or the State Commission Assessment Panel) before proceeding.

3. Merit

Proposals that are not categorised as either complying or non-complying are known as merit applications. They are individually assessed on their merits, with reference to the policies in the relevant development plan and to the Act and related regulations.

Applicants should get advice from the assessment authority (council or the State Commission Assessment Panel) before proceeding.

The application process and assessment stages

Before a development application involving land use or building can be approved, the relevant consents must be obtained:

  • development plan consent - requires assessment against the provisions of the development plan by the council (or in some cases the State Commission Assessment Panel)
  • building rules consent - requires assessment against the provisions of the building rules by either a council building officer or a private certifier.

Applications for development plan consent and building rules consent follow different assessment paths.

The stages to assess a development application requiring development plan consent and building rules consent are:

  1. lodgement of development plan consent application
  2. the assessment authority may ask for more information
  3. referrals to agencies (if required and if there are no pre-lodgement agreements)
  4. public notification (if required)
  5. planning assessment
  6. planning decision
  7. appeals (when relevant)
  8. lodgement of building rules consent application
  9. building rules assessment
  10. building rules decision
  11. development approval
  12. appeals (when relevant).

Applications involving land divisions are assessed by the State Commission Assessment Panel to ensure that the proposed division of land meets all prescribed requirements. All land divisions require a certificate issued by the SCAP.

Referrals and pre-lodgement agreements

Applications for large and complex developments may be referred to state, local or federal government agencies (such as the Environment Protection Authority, the Adelaide Airports Authority, SA Water) to review certain elements of the proposed development.

The circumstances under which a referral is required are described in Schedule 8 of the regulations.

The Act allows applicants to meet with referral agencies to gain formal agreements before lodging their development application. Having a pre-lodgement agreement means that the assessment can proceed more quickly and efficiently.

This guide provides more details about pre-lodgement agreements.

Applicants must apply to each referral agency using a Pre-lodgement agreement request form (66.0 KB DOC) and provide sufficient details about their proposal so the agency can determine the scope of discussions and potential for an agreement.

Assessment times

Assessment times vary depending on the form of development proposed and the completeness of the application. Statutory timeframes are:

Application type Time limit
Planning assessment (Development Plan Consent) Complying - 2 weeks
Merit - 8 weeks
Building assessment
(Building Rules Consent)
4 weeks
Land division 12 weeks

Complex applications involving referrals and/or public notifications take additional time. In the case of referrals, the statutory time limit increases by 6 to 10 weeks, depending on the referral agency.

The time limits can be suspended if the assessment authority or referral agency asks the applicant to provide additional information. Generally, 12 weeks is allowed for more information to be provided. The assessment 'clock' restarts when the information is received.


Councils and private certifiers are subject to auditing of the processes related to development plan assessment (for residential code) and building rules assessment. These audits are undertaken by an independent auditor nominated by the Minister for Planning.

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Page last updated 18 August 2020

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