Documentation guideline for building approval applications

As part of its comprehensive reform program, the ACT Government is continuing to strengthen the building regulatory system.

The introduction of a new documentation guideline for building approval applications is a major reform. Correct design from the start of a project will prevent many problems further down the track.

The Canberra community can rightly expect that buildings are designed to comply with building standards and that important aspects of the building design are checked before a building approval is issued.

The guideline covers minimum documentation and information for building approval applications for class 2-9 buildings, including information on the maintenance requirements for essential safety systems in the building, such as the fire protection systems. They cover apartment buildings, commercial accommodation and other commercial buildings.

The guideline confirms to designers and applicants the expectations for the minimum information to be included in an application for building approval.

The guidelines have two sections:

  1. Important concepts that relate to the ACT building approval system and information about how the guidelines will apply.
  2. The required information, including examples of plans and drawings showing relevant detail.

The guideline is adopted under the Building Act 2004 (the Act). Followed by a transition period before the guideline becomes mandatory on 1 September 2020.


What types of buildings does the guideline cover?

The guideline covers new and substantially altered class 2-9 buildings. This includes all buildings except single houses and townhouses, and structures like sheds and garages.

Why doesn’t it cover other buildings?

The focus of the reform is complex buildings including apartment buildings and commercial buildings.

There are existing requirements and a checklist for houses and non-habitable structures.

Why is the guideline being introduced?

The Government’s review of the ACT building regulatory system found that poor documentation contributes to building defects and there are considerable differences in the level of building approval documentation for similar projects.

It also found that many people did not understand the purpose of a building approval and why a reasonable level of information is required to determine if an approval should be issued.

Why don’t people provide enough documentation?

Reasons highlighted in consultation on the reforms include:

What kinds of problems can a lack of documentation cause?

Problems can include:

Why is the information and documentation so important?

The purpose of a building approval is to verify that the proposed building work will result in a building that is compliant with the Act, including the building code, before work on the building starts. That’s why a building approval application must include information that demonstrates the proposed building will comply.

How can the guideline help?

The guideline makes clear to land owners and people designing buildings and preparing drawings and other documents what must be provided as a minimum level of information in building approval applications.

It also supports building certifiers who are assessing building approval applications for these buildings by establishing a baseline of technical information that applies to all applications.

Is the guideline a checklist?

No. The guideline includes:

People will refer to the guideline as they work on the documents they are responsible for providing for building approval.

Does getting an approval require full construction drawings for the building?

No. The guideline does not require full construction drawings for every detail of the building but outlines the minimum required information on important parts of the building and building system.

Does the guideline regulate who can design a building?

No. Regulation of design practitioners is being considered under other building regulatory reforms.

Does the guideline change the building approval process?

No. It only outlines the information that must be provided as part of a building approval application.

Do other jurisdictions expect this kind of information to be provided in a building approval application?

There are different requirements across states, territories and approving authorities. However, it is common in building laws that enough information is provided at building approval stage to determine compliance with building laws.

Do other jurisdictions have similar guidelines?

Some local governments and state authorities provide checklists and other guidance on what types of information is include in the building approval. The ACT guideline expands on what is available in other jurisdictions and provides detailed guidance and examples of acceptable documentation.

Can people use the plans and drawings provided in the guideline for building approvals?

No. They are provided as examples only and are not to be used in building approval applications.

Does the guideline affect the development approval process?

No. The guideline relates to building approval applications and not development approval applications.

Won’t it increase costs?

For some projects there may need to be more upfront investment in designs and building information, but this cost compared to the cost of an overall construction project is relatively small.

When will the guideline come into force?

The reform includes that initially there will be voluntary compliance with a transition period for moving to mandatory within six months of release of the guidelines.

The guidelines will be adopted under the Act, which will include a transition period.

After the guidelines are in force, what does this mean?

It means that applicants will need to provide all of the relevant information about their project and could be refused a building approval if they do not supply the technical information about the building.

What consultation was there with industry?

The guideline provides more detail on what is considered enough information under the Act. Industry associations representing ACT building practitioners, engineers, building designers, developers, architects and building surveyors were invited to review the guidelines. Comments received were taken in to consideration in developing the preview version.

The Government Architect has also reviewed the guideline.

Feedback and comments from building owners made throughout the review of the building regulatory system were also considered in developing the guideline.

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