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Do I need a permit for a fabric structure or commercial shelter project?

When planning and building your new shade or shelter structure, you may wonder if you’ll need a permit – or permits. The answer? Most likely, but not always. Whether you’re covering a bowling green, tennis court or kids’ playground, most commercial projects require a combination of permits during the planning and build stage. This does, however, depend on a range of factors including location, type of structure and its intended use.

Even if you don’t need a permit, you’ll generally still need to apply for an exemption. While this takes less effort and admin than the permit process, it’s worth remembering you’ll need to factor this in or work with someone who can.

No one wants to get held up because they didn’t have the right permits in place. So, what do you need to consider when planning your project? First, here are the different types of permits you may need:

Custom Shade Sails

Types of permits

Most commercial shade and shelter structures will need at least two of the following permits:  

  • Development application (DA) or planning permit. This confirms your plans have the green light and you can start construction. This is the first permit you need to apply for and approvals can typically take up to three months.
  • Building or construction certificate. This is done during the construction period and certifies your structure has been built according to its plans. These permits are usually processed in a few weeks.
  • Occupation certificate. This shows a structure is safe and suitable for people to use.

Depending on the nature of your project, you may be able to apply for an exemption. This is a much faster process – they’re usually approved within a few days – but still requires documentation.

So, what factors determine if you need a permit?


Steel COLA at St Laurence's College by Greenline


Permits are either issued by your state government or local council. This means where you are building your shade or shelter structure has a big impact. Each state has its own approach:

  • New South Wales (NSW): In NSW, permits fall under the Planning Act with details on planning given in the In some cases, this can be controlled at a local government level . Most structures require a permit however shade structures built for educational facilities (eg. schools) are often exempt.
  • Victoria: Projects in Victoria fall under tmostly at a local government level. Shade structures and works associated with schools can be  exempt under the Victorian Planning Provisions (VPP) but this may differ for government vs private schools.
  • Queensland: Coming shortly. Further information will follow.
  • Australian Capital Territory (ACT): School’s can get an exemption for shade structures under the territory’s Planning Act and legislation.



Shade structures under 25m2 generally don’t need a permit, but not always. This is usually provided they meet other conditions, like a height restriction of 3m. Usually, this size is only suitable for smaller projects or, more often, residential projects – like covering a back deck.

While size isn’t directly linked to the permit requirements if the project itself is exempt, size can sometimes impact a condition of the exemption. For example, schools often receive exemptions for shade structures however a large COLA may be classified outside of that.


Type of structure

Shade structures, like those made from cloth or PVC fabric, can sometimes receive permit exemption. This depends on the definition provided in the legislation. For example, in NSW ‘Shade Structures’ can be exempt from needing a permit, while in Victoria the legislation refers to ‘Shade Structures and Shade Sails’. It’s worth checking (or asking the Greenline team to!) the relevant legislation in your state and what it includes.

Waterproof Shade Sails


Zoning is used to map what different areas can be used for. Although these differ state-by-state, they’ll generally fall under:
● Commercial
● Mixed-Use
● Residential
● Industrial
● Agricultural
● Public Use

Where a structure is and what it will be used for impacts what permits are needed. Schools, local governments and sports clubs all have different permit needs due to the zoning of the land they operate on. For example, educational facilities are often exempt from permits if they are building shade structures.

Meanwhile, local government or council projects will typically handle permits via their own internal processes.

Sports clubs and other commercial applications will likely need to go through the full permit process, unless they can receive an exemption based on size.

Bowling Green Canopy

Other factors

Any zoning is overlaid by other factors like heritage listing, fire and flood risk. Attaching a shade or shelter structure to a heritage-listed building might need extra evidence to show you won’t cause any damage, for example. Projects in a bushfire-prone area – like a nature reserve – might need a fire engineer to comment on the structure materials to make sure they’re compliant.

For any project, it’s worth checking to see if you need to consider any of these other factors during your planning process. Consult with professionals to make this judgement.

The Greenline approach

At Greenline, we handle projects from start to finish – ensuring you end up with a completed structure ready to enjoy. This includes managing permits as part of this streamlined process.

There can be a lot to tackle when planning a new shade or shelter project. From sorting out budgets to timelines and internal approvals, permits can sometimes fall by the wayside – especially if you’re managing them for the first time.

We understand that this can all be complex to navigate on your own. At Greenline, we’ve done these thousands of times before and have experienced team members and specialised consultants to guide you through the process.

As part of your Greenline project, we can include permit management within our remit. This includes:
● Applying for permits or permit exemptions
● Working with relevant specialists to provide documentation
● Factoring permits into timelines to minimise delays

Don’t let permits put you off building a new shade or shelter structure – we can help you every step of the way. Reach out to our team to talk more about getting your project started.