To preserve and improve the social, cultural, economic and environmental well being of Inner South Canberra and the Inner South Canberra Community.

“ACT’s new planning system – Key documents released”

Following the new Planning Act 2023 coming into effect on 19 June 2023, on 11 September 2023 the following ‘Key documents’ were publicly released:

  1. A new Territory Plan: this is the ACT’s statutory planning scheme and needs to be approved by the Legislative Assembly, under the Planning Act. It will be presented to the Assembly for approval as an ‘interim’ Plan.  We are told “The planning system is expected to commence on 27 November 2023”. Any new development applications (DAs) received after that will be considered under the new system. While the interim Plan is in effect the Assembly may hold an Inquiry into it, likely to be conducted by the Planning, Transport & City Services Committee chaired by Jo Clay with members Suzanne Orr and Mark Parton.  The Committee has up to six months to report.  Then the Assembly can approve the Plan or ask for changes to be made to it.
  2. ‘Supporting [non-statutory] Materials/ Documents’: these are made by the Minister or Chief Planner as ‘notifiable instruments’. They are not subject to review or disallowance by the Assembly.  They are:
  • District Strategies: one for ‘Inner South’ District and eight others. Fyshwick is in Inner South, Oaks Estate is in ‘East Canberra’, extending from southeast Gungahlin to northeast Tuggeranong.  These are not relevant to DA assessment.
  • Design Guides: these are the ‘Housing Design Guide’, the ‘Urban Design Guide’ and the ‘Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design Guide’.
  • Technical Specifications: there are ten ‘District Specifications’ (including ‘Non-Urban Districts Specifications’), seven ‘Zone Specifications’ and one ‘Subdivision Specifications’.

Some of these documents are accessible through the ACT Government’s (EPSDD) Planning website but, oddly, not the ‘new’ Territory Plan when this material was released.  The description under ‘Territory Plan’ still referred to the ‘old’ Plan.  The ‘new’ Plan is however accessible through the online Legislation Register.

The relevant parts of the ‘new’ Plan are ‘District Policies’, ‘Zone Policies’ and ‘Other Policies’.  The first two have the following sections: ‘Land Use Table’, ‘Policy Outcomes’, ‘Assessment Outcomes’ and ‘Assessment Requirements’.

The ‘Policy Outcomes’ are like the old ‘zone objectives’ but rather more generalised, eg. for ‘RZ1’ zone the words ‘predominantly single dwelling…in character’ are now omitted.

Under ‘Assessment Outcomes’ (‘Residential Zones Policy’) it is stated: “development proposals must demonstrate that they are consistent with the assessment outcomes stated below”.  “…consideration is to be given to the relevant design guides and may be given to planning technical specifications which may serve as a benchmark.”  “Where a proposed development complies with relevant provisions in the design guide and/or planning technical specification and the development comprehensively addresses the assessment outcome, further assessment regarding that assessment outcome will not be required.”

The ‘Assessment Outcomes’ are fairly general statements under seven headings.  Under “Built Form and Building Design’ are statements such as “13. The height, bulk and scale of the building is appropriate, noting the desired zone policy outcomes and the streetscape.” and “15. Reasonable levels of privacy to dwellings and private open space within a block and on adjoining residential blocks is achieved.”  Under “Sustainability and Environment” is stated: “18. Sufficient planting area and canopy trees are provided, and roofed areas and hard surfaces limited, to reduce urban heat island effects, minimise stormwater run-off and maintain ecosystem services.  This includes consideration of water sensitive urban design measures.”   Also, “19. Deep soil zones are provided on site to support healthy tree growth and provide adequate room for canopy trees.”

The ’Assessment Requirements’ (‘Residential Zones Policy’) “set out the mandatory development controls within specific zones or for specific development types.”  These contain some of the old ‘rules’ from the Residential Development Codes (which are being done away with), but only those dealing with site coverage, minimum block areas, number of storeys/ building height and “21. No new apartments are permitted in RZ1”.

All the other ‘rules’ from the Residential Development Codes in the ‘old’ Territory Plan are shoved off into the ‘Residential Zones Technical Specification’, which is in the ‘supporting material’ outside the new Territory Plan and capable of being altered at will by the Chief Planner.  These include building envelope, solar access, boundary setbacks, site open space, tree planting and privacy.

It is not at all clear to me how all this is supposed to work, but it certainly provides much greater discretion in decision-making to delegates of the planning authority and will make life very uncertain and difficult for external users of the system.

By the way, the new provision permitting subdivision of a dual occupancy under the Unit Titles Act on a standard block in RZ1 “on a block a minimum of 800m2 and where one dwelling has a maximum dwelling size of 120m2” can be found towards the bottom of the ‘Subdivision Policy’.

And then there are the Design Guides.  These are massive documents, for another day.

Richard Johnston (B.Arch., Dip. T&C Planning, Dip. Environ. Stud.)
Life Fellow, Planning Institute of Australia


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