Major projects that are declared by the Minister for Planning and Local Government must go through a rigorous, state-run assessment process.
The way a major project is assessed depends on where it is proposed and when it is lodged for assessment.
Which assessment process applies
There are two different planning systems operating in South Australia, depending on location.
Urban areas are included in "Phase Three" of the planning reform implementation. These parts of South Australia will transition to the new planning system in late 2020.
In urban areas, major projects are set out by the Development Act 1993. These proposals are called major developments.
Rural areas are included in "Phase Two" of the planning reform implementation. These parts of South Australia transitioned to the new planning system on 31 July 2020.
In rural areas, major projects are set out by the new Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act 2016. These proposals are called impact assessed developments.
Outback areas are included in "Phase One" of the planning reform implementation. These areas transitioned to the new planning system on 1 July 2019.
Outback areas are parts of South Australia where there is no local council.
In outback areas, major projects are set out by the new Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act 2016. These proposals are called impact assessed developments.
Assessment process steps
Declaration of the proposal as major
The application is considered by the Minister for Planning as to whether the highest level of assessment is required given the environmental, social and economic impacts of the proposal.
The Minister declares the application as a major development or project under the Development Act 1993 (section 46) or the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act 2016 (Section 111)
A formal development application package is received from the applicant as per Practice Direction 4.
Referral to the State Planning Commission (SPC)
Once a formal development application has been received for a major development or project, it is referred to the State Planning Commission to issue the applicant with assessment requirements.
The Commission identifies social, environmental and economic issues relevant to the proposed development and the assessment requirements.
During this process, the SPC may consult with:
- Commonwealth agencies (i.e. EPBC Act requirements)
- Relevant state government agencies
- An independent specialist, selected from a list appointed by the Minister, who has particular expertise relating to the proposed development
The assessment requirements summarise all potential issues that need to be addressed by the development. They also highlight any further information that is required to enable a proper assessment of the development. The guidelines are publicly released for information on the SA Planning Portal.
As the application is preliminary and conceptual in nature at this stage it is not publicly released.
Proposals that are declared by the Minister for Planning are considered to be the highest level of environmental, social and economic assessment, also referred to as:
- Environmental Impact Statement (EIS, also known as impact assessed development)
This is the level of assessment required for the most complex proposals, where there is a wide range of issues to be investigated in depth. If the project proponent is directed to prepare an EIS it must do so and then release it for public comment for at least 30 days unless a longer period is determined by the Minister, and hold a public meeting in an area close to the site of the proposed development.
This concludes the SPCs role in this part of the major development assessment process.
Detailed assessment documents released
The proponent prepares an EIS that responds to the assessment requirements.
The length of time it takes for the proponent to prepare the EIS is not set and varies depending on complexity of the proposal.
Once complete, the Minister for Planning releases the EIS for public and agency comment for at least 30 business days unless a longer period is determined by the Minister.
The document provided by the applicant is subject to change as a result of feedback received during public consultation.
Approval does not occur at this stage. This is a stage to enable the public to express their views on a proposal. All comments received during this period are considered in the assessment process.
Responding to public comment
Following the public comment period, the proponent prepares a document that responds to all the submissions during the public consultation period.
The document may include:
- amendments to the EIS
- changes to the original proposal in response to issues that have been raised
- answers and/or clarification of issues raised.
The completed document and associated public comments are made publicly available for information on the SA Planning Portal.
Assessing the proposal
The Minister for Planning assesses the whole proposal and considers all the documentation produced – i.e. the assessment document, public and agency submissions and the response document – and prepares an Assessment Report.
The Assessment Report is made publically available for information.
The Assessment Report contains recommendations regarding the proposal, however, the proposal is still not approved at this stage.
Decision by the relevant authority
The Assessment Report along with the whole proposal (including the assessment document, public and agency submissions and response document) is provided to the relevant authority for consideration (the Governor of South Australia or the Minister for Planning).
The proposal may be refused, approved or approved with conditions.
Variations following decision
From time-to-time proponents may seek variations to the development approval.
Extensions of time
The applicant may request extensions of time which are considered by the Minister for Planning or their delegate on their merits on a case by case basis.