The Architect's Notebook

Building Permit or Planning Permit – What’s the Difference?

The location of your project, the type of project and the scale of the project are all factors that combine to determine whether your project will need both a planning permit and building permit, or just a building permit alone. So what is the difference between the two? And how do you know when you need them?

The technical “legal-ese” difference is that two different Acts of Parliament – the Planning & Environment Act and the Building Act, control the two types of permits. They are also administered by two different groups of specialists – planning permits can be issued by councils and/or their planning departments, whereas building permits can be issued by either a private Building Surveyor, or one employed by the council.

To put things more simply, a building permit covers a building’s structural stability and safety whilst a planning permit deals with local requirements for form, location or use. All building projects, other than minor alterations & non-structural repairs, will typically require a building permit. If a planning permit is required for a project, the building permit cannot be issued until a planning permit has been received.

However – just to confuse you – there is some overlap between the two systems. If your project does not need a planning permit, you will most likely still be required to comply with the regulations for setbacks, over-looking and other siting provisions that have also been included in the Building Regulations, in order to obtain your building permit.

So – how do you know which permit you need and when? The easiest way is to speak to someone in the planning department of your local council. And if they completely confuse you (which is highly likely!) then contact an experienced architect, or building surveyor to give you a hand.

The permit process can be convoluted and complicated, but an architect with plenty of experience working on your type of project can help you navigate your way through with much greater ease.

Any questions? Head to the comments box below.

By |2017-02-01T14:05:38+00:00July 26th, 2015|2 Comments

About the Author:

Melissa Fleming
Principal architect, founder and director of Metroworks Architects, Melissa has been involved in the industry full-time since graduating with Honours from Deakin University in 1995. She has single-handedly developed her business into a multi-award winning, boutique practice that offers high quality and personalised architectural solutions - specialising in the design of new homes and major renovations.


  1. Braden Bills October 13, 2016 at 1:33 am - Reply

    I want to build a nice shed in my back yard. I didn’t even think about the fact that I might need to get a permit! I’ll make sure that I get that taken care of officially.

  2. Rhianna Hawk September 29, 2018 at 3:33 am - Reply

    I want to get an extension on my home and I wasn’t sure what sort of permit I’d need, so your explanation has really helped. From the sound of it, I’ll definitely need a building permit one way or the other, because you say one is needed if a planning permit is. I’ll be sure to take your advice and talk to an architect and the local planning department to make sure that adding an indoor pool with my home extension doesn’t require a planning permit.

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