Last updated 5 October 2016     This chapter is currently under review.

Integrated development assessment system

Development applications are made through the Integrated Development Assessment System (IDAS) and are assessed against the relevant planning scheme and other planning instruments. It is designed to integrate state and local government approval processes.

There are up to five stages of IDAS contained in ch 6 of the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (Qld) (Sustainable Planning Act):

  • application stage—the developer applies to the relevant government entity (usually local government)
  • information and referral stage—the development application is referred to any relevant government agency (referral agencies), and an information request is made if further information is required to assess the application
  • notification stage—if some or all of the development is classified as impact assessable, the development application is publicly notified
  • decision stage—a decision is made whether to approve or refuse the development application or approve the development application subject to certain conditions
  • compliance stage—this allows for development, documents and works to be assessed against technical guidelines in some cases.

In order to determine the requirements of IDAS for individual development applications, it is necessary to answer three preliminary questions:

  • Does the proposal involve ‘development’ as defined in the Sustainable Planning Act?
  • What category of development is it (exempt, self-assessable, development requiring compliance assessment, assessable development (code assessable or impact assessable) or prohibited development)?
  • Does the proposal involve a referral agency?

Answering these three questions allows the IDAS requirements to be determined including the strict timelines for each of the stages.

Meaning of development

‘Development’ is defined in s 7 of the Sustainable Planning Act as:

  • carrying out building work
  • carrying out plumbing or drainage work
  • carrying out operational work
  • reconfiguring a lot
  • making a material change of use of premises.

The different forms of development under the Sustainable Planning Act are further defined in s 10 as:

  • building work—building, repairing, altering, moving or demolishing a building or structure and some other forms of related work. For a building listed on the Heritage Register under the Queensland Heritage Act 1992 (Qld), building work even includes any painting or plastering that substantially alters the appearance of the place
  • plumbing or drainage work—installing, changing and maintaining an apparatus or fitting a pipe for the supply or removal of water, sewage or greywater
  • operational work—activities such as excavating or filling, clearing vegetation or undertaking work that materially affects premises or their use
  • reconfiguring a lot—subdividing a large lot into smaller lots, amalgamating several lots together or rearranging the boundaries of a lot
  • material change of use—start of a new use, re-establishment of a use that has been abandoned or a material change in the intensity or scale of a use of premises. A use of land is the purpose for which activities are conducted on the land as understood in ordinary terminology in a town planning context. Planning schemes normally include a dictionary to define common uses of land. Examples of different uses of land include residential housing, hotels, commercial premises, garages, shopping centres, multi-unit dwellings (units) and restaurants.

The term ‘development’ creates a broad umbrella definition into which virtually any proposal can be brought within the planning and assessment framework. However, not all development is required to be assessed under IDAS.

Categories of development

The Sustainable Planning Act, the Sustainable Planning Regulation 2009 (Qld) (Sustainable Planning Regulation), local government planning schemes and other planning instruments identify different categories of development that may or may not require approval under IDAS. There are five categories of development (s 231 Sustainable Planning Act):

  • exempt development—the Sustainable Planning Act does not apply to it (e.g. mining)
  • self-assessable development—no formal approval is required under IDAS but the development must comply with any relevant codes (e.g. a building code) found in a local government planning scheme, other planning instrument or, for state-level, self-assessable development identified in sch 3, the codes identified in sch 5 of the Sustainable Planning Regulation
  • assessable development—formal assessment is required under IDAS (this is further subdivided into two categories: impact assessable and code assessable)
  • development requiring compliance assessment—a development, document or works is assessed for compliance with specified technical criteria without requiring a full development application to be lodged and assessed under IDAS
  • prohibited development—is a class of development that cannot be undertaken on particular land, and no application can be made for it (e.g. development for a brothel within 200 m of a church).

All development is classified as exempt development unless it falls into one of the other categories under the Sustainable Planning Act, Sustainable Planning Regulation, relevant planning scheme or other planning instrument. Some development that cannot be made assessable under a local government planning scheme is specified in sch 4 of the Sustainable Planning Regulation, and this development becomes exempt development by default.

Exempt development may still require assessment under other laws. For example, sch 4 provides that mining is not able to be made assessable development, but it requires assessment under the Mineral Resources Act 1989 (Qld) (Mineral Resources Act) and the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld).

The state government and local governments may designate land for community infrastructure such as airports, bus ways, dams, prisons, schools and sewage treatment plants, which are exempt development under a planning scheme. Many infrastructure projects are therefore not subject to approval by local governments, and there are no public submission or appeal rights for them under IDAS.

If development is assessable development, it must also be characterised as either:

  • impact assessable—the application is assessed against the planning scheme, must be publicly notified, and the public gains a right to make submissions and appeal a decision to approve the development or
  • code assessable—the application is assessed only against any relevant technical code (e.g. a building code), it is not publicly notified and no submission or appeal rights exist.

Assessable development is identified as either impact or code assessable in the relevant planning scheme (sch 3 Sustainable Planning Regulation) or other planning instrument. Planning schemes typically have ‘tables of development’ that identify different types of development in different zones or other designated areas as either exempt, code assessable or impact assessable.

For example, a proposal for a new restaurant might be identified as impact assessable in an area designated for residential houses thereby giving the community the right to make submissions about it.

Large-scale development or development in sensitive areas will not necessarily be impact assessable.

A lecture explaining the IDAS system can be viewed below and is available on Youtube:

A short quiz on basic concepts for development in Queensland, including understanding what is ‘development’ and when development approval may be required, is available online for you to test your understanding.

Development offences

It is a development offence under the Sustainable Planning Act to:

  • start assessable development work without a development permit (s 578)
  • not comply with applicable codes when undertaking self-assessable development (s 574)
  • contravene a development approval or conditions in a development approval (s 580)
  • carry out prohibited development (s 581)
  • use premises unlawfully (s 582).

Any person can commence proceedings in the Planning and Environment Court for an order to restrain or remedy a development offence. The Magistrates Court hears criminal prosecutions for development offences and can impose large fines and orders to remedy them.

A lecture examining common forms of development offences can be viewed below and is available on Youtube:

Government agencies

The government entities involved in the IDAS are referred to as the ‘assessment manager’ and ‘referral agencies’ and are listed in schs 6 and 7 of the Sustainable Planning Regulation.

The assessment manager is normally the relevant local government. An application is made to this entity, which then manages the IDAS and makes the final decision whether to approve or refuse an application and whether to impose conditions.

Referral agencies are other government bodies to which an application is referred to for consideration.

A referral agency may be:

  • a concurrence agency with the power to direct the assessment manager to refuse the application or to impose mandatory conditions
  • an advice agency, which may offer advice to the assessment manager but cannot direct refusal of the application or impose mandatory conditions.

The Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning under the State Assessment and Referral Agency (SARA) is the single lodgement and assessment point for virtually all development applications where the state has a jurisdiction.

The State Development Assessment Provisions set out the criteria and codes for state assessment of development under SARA.

Ministerial powers

The IDAS gives discretionary powers to the minister administering the Sustainable Planning Act to direct local governments to decide development applications in a certain way and to ‘call in’ a development proposal, thereby bypassing local governments, referral agencies and the Planning and Environment Court appeal process (ss 417-433 Sustainable Planning Act).

This is in addition to other avenues for the state government to bypass local governments and the court appeal process such as designating land for community infrastructure or declaring a priority development area.

Approving or refusing a development application

The principal test in deciding whether to approve or refuse a development application is to consider whether the proposed development is consistent with the relevant planning scheme and any other relevant planning instruments.

If it is, it will generally be approved. If the development is inconsistent, it will generally be refused unless there are sufficient planning grounds to justify the approval despite the inconsistency.

This emphasises the importance of public submissions to local governments when they are preparing or amending their planning schemes in order to identify and protect important areas and environmental values. It is generally too late to protect important areas when a development application is lodged, if the planning scheme does not protect the area and allows it to be developed.


Approval of a development can be (and virtually always is) subject to conditions that control how the development will occur. Conditions are the basic mechanism for minimising adverse impacts and for providing public infrastructure (e.g. parklands).

Conditions are required to be relevant and reasonable.

A relevant condition is one that properly relates to the legislation under which it is imposed (e.g. for a local government, to maintain standards in local development).

A reasonable condition is one that is a reasonable response to the changes that the development will cause (e.g. increased traffic to a road or bridge).

For example, a relevant and reasonable condition for a development adjacent to a watercourse may be that no development is to occur within 20 metres of the high bank of any watercourse. Whether a condition is relevant and reasonable will depend on the facts of each individual case.

A short quiz on condition-making powers is available online for you to test your understanding.

If an assessment manager refuses a development application, the applicant may appeal to the Planning and Environment Court (s 461 Sustainable Planning Act). A person who has made a proper submission about an impact assessable development application during the public notification stage may also appeal against approval of the development (s 462 Sustainable Planning Act).