Chapter 2 - National Capital Plan

Program 1.1.1

Program 1.1.1

Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory are planned and developed in accordance with their national significance.


Section 6 of the Act sets out the NCA’s functions. Section 6(a) and (b) gives the NCA the authority:

  • to prepare and administer a National Capital Plan (the Plan)
  • to keep the Plan under constant review and to propose amendments to it when necessary.

The Plan sets out general planning policies and principles for overall development of the Australian Capital Territory.

The Plan’s general policies apply to the whole of the Territory and demonstrate a strategic approach to planning. The Plan acknowledges the distribution of national functions throughout the city and the interdependence of the Territory’s urban and non-urban parts. It provides for critical services for both national and local purposes and safeguards the important landscape character of ‘the bush capital’. The Plan secures for all Australians the future of the National Capital by safeguarding the status, future land use, amenity, infrastructure, quality and setting of the Seat of Government.

Development Assessments

The Plan sets out detailed conditions of planning, design and development for Designated Areas, which are those areas that embody the special characteristics of the National Capital. Designated Areas include the main avenues and approach routes; the inner hills that provide the city’s immediate landscape setting; the Central National Area, embracing the Parliamentary Zone; Lake Burley Griffin and its foreshores; the Australian National University; the City Hill precinct; Constitution Avenue and the suburb of Russell; parts of the suburbs of Forrest and Deakin; and the diplomatic estate. Map 1 shows the Designated Areas for which the NCA has responsibility for Works Approvals.

Section 12(1) of the Act states:

No works shall be performed in a Designated Area unless:

  1. the NCA has approved the works in writing
  2. the proposal to perform the works has been submitted to the Authority together with such plans and specifications as are required by the Authority
  3. the works are in accordance with the Plan.

Outside the developed urban areas (in the National Capital Open Space System and the ‘Broadacre’ and ‘Rural’ areas), the Plan sets out broad land use policies and specifies the range and nature of permitted uses. It also sets out special requirements for the development of certain areas (not in the Designated Areas) where it is considered desirable in the interests of the National Capital.

‘The “city without a soul” gibe levelled at Canberra in the 1970s and 1980s has been replaced by a ‘stronger sense of identity and self-confidence.’


Regulating Development

The NCA promotes, facilitates and regulates development to ensure it is working in accordance with the Plan by:

  • approving works in Designated Areas, as set out in the Plan
  • undertaking master planning
  • setting special requirements for defined areas of Canberra outside Designated Areas, where such requirements are considered to be in the interests of Canberra as the National Capital
  • preparing detailed conditions of planning design and development for Designated Areas
  • issuing leases and licences for land administered by the NCA.

Key Achievements

During 2014–15 the NCA approved:

  • 449 Works Approvals applications
  • five Development Control Plans (DCP).

Further information on planning the National Capital is contained later in this chapter.

Figure 6: Comparison of works approvals by financial year, from 2010–11 until 2014–15

Development and Works Approvals

Within Designated Areas, the NCA is responsible for the detailed conditions of planning, design and development, for approving any subdivisions of land and for approving works (under section 12 of the Act). Determining the scope of works subject to such approval enables the NCA to influence those qualities of planning, design and development that respect and enhance Canberra’s status and character as the National Capital.

‘Works’ is defined in section 4 of the Act to include:

  • construction, alteration, extension or demolition of buildings or structures
  • landscaping
  • tree-felling
  • excavations.

This excludes anything done inside buildings or structures. Works Approval granted by the NCA is a planning approval, not a building approval, and is granted only on the basis that the work is in accordance with provisions of the Plan. It does not constitute any form of warranty as to the structural sufficiency of the proposed work or how safely the work is performed. It is the responsibility of applicants to ensure adherence to all applicable legislation

Key Achievements

Figure 6 illustrates the number of Works Approvals completed each financial year from 2010 to 2015, as well as the value of works assessed each year.

Works Approvals over $1 Million

Key Achievements

In 2014–15 the NCA approved 15 applications for works valued at $1 million or more (Table 3).

Table 3: Works Approvals Granted During 2014–15 ($1 Million Or More In Value)
Description of Works Date Approved
Block 2 Section 86 Yarralumla – Embassy of Sweden external renovation works 08/08/2014
Block 13 Section 67 Deakin – Brunei Darussalam High Commissioner’s residence 14/10/2014
Block 13 Section 9 Barton – Construction of multi-storey car park at 48 Macquarie Street 17/10/2014
Monaro Highway Road Reserve – Bridge-strengthening works 19/11/2014
Block 1 Section 39 Acton – Demolition and rebuilding of Hancock West Building at the Australian National University 17/12/2014
Section 2 and Section 48 Parkes – Pedestrian lighting upgrade for Commonwealth Park 12/01/2015
Block 3 Section 30 Forrest – Construction of childcare centre at 25 National Circuit 23/01/2015
Block 8 Section 5 Campbell – Construction of a mixeduse development (commercial and residential units) and associated works 11/02/2015
Block 8 Section 5 Campbell – Construction of a mixeduse development (commercial and residential units) and associated works 11/02/2015
Block 1 Section 130 Campbell – Construction of a mixed use development (commercial and 204 residential units) and associated works 11/02/2015
Block 3 Section 2 Acton – Construction of new building and car park works for CSIRO consolidation project 19/02/2015
Block 12 Section 3 Deakin – Demolition of existing building and construction of new ambassador’s residence for embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar 12/03/2015
Block 1 Section 3 Deakin – Refurbishment works at the Lodge guardhouse 02/04/2015
Block 1 Section 39 Acton – Refurbishment of College of Law at the Australian National University 24/04/2015
Cotter Road Duplication and upgrade works – Tuggeranong Parkway to McCulloch Street 27/05/2015
Block 3 Section 2 Acton – Glasshouse replacement project at CSIRO Black Mountain laboratories 19/06/2015

National Capital Plan Revised

The NCA is undertaking a planning reform process to update the Plan and to amend the planning arrangements between the Australian Government and ACT Government. The Plan has not been reviewed since it came into effect in 1990.

The revision of the Plan is intended to achieve four key outcomes:

  • a revised and modernised Plan
  • changes to metropolitan planning arrangements to provide greater flexibility to the ACT Government to accommodate the growth of Canberra
  • reducing duplication and complexity in planning for a substantial portion of Territory Land by removing Special Requirements
  • minor adjustments to areas identified as possessing the special characteristics of the National Capital (Designated Areas).

The planning reform work largely addresses strategic planning matters and administrative arrangements between the NCA and the ACT Government. The changes to the Plan will primarily result in a clearer definition of the role of the NCA in planning in the ACT and will help create efficiencies in strategic planning processes.

Key Achievements

On 5 June 2015 the NCA released the National Capital Plan Exposure Draft for public consultation, with the period for public comment concluding on 22 July 2015.

In the lead-up to the release of the Exposure Draft and during the consultation period, the NCA conducted more than 20 briefings to government, community and industry groups. During the consultation period the NCA continued to undertake stakeholder consultation, which included two public information sessions.

It is anticipated that a Draft Amendment to implement the proposed planning changes will be released for public consultation in late 2015.

National Capital Plan Amendments

The NCA is responsible for keeping the Plan under constant review and for proposing amendments when needed. The statutory provisions for amending the Plan are set out in sections 14 to 22 of the Act.

Draft Amendments to the Plan are subject to public consultation, including with the Territory planning authority.

The NCA submits amendments to the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, the Honourable Jamie Briggs MP (the Minister), who may approve the amendment without alteration, or refer it back with directions either to conduct further consultations or to provide suggested alterations. The Minister may also refer Draft Amendments to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories before considering the amendment.

Key Achievements

In accordance with the Legislative Instruments Act 2003, proposed amendments to the Plan are laid before both Houses of Parliament (as a disallowable instrument) for a period of 15 sitting days.

Draft Amendments are also subject to a regulation-impact assessment, as administered by the Department of Finance.

No amendments to the Plan were approved during 2014–15. However, the Authority agreed to prepare two Draft Amendments to the Plan.

‘The ability to have a frank and inclusive discussion about the future urban condition is the true mark of cities committed to a transformational agenda.’

Malcolm Snow, Chief Executive, NCA

Draft Amendments

Draft Amendment 85 – West Belconnen Urban Development

On 28 August 2014 the Authority agreed to prepare a Draft Amendment to the Plan to allow for urban development at West Belconnen. Draft Amendment 85 (DA85) was developed in response to a request received from the Riverview Group, acting on behalf of the ACT Government’s Land Development Agency (LDA).

The purpose of DA85 is to alter the land uses of West Belconnen from ‘Hills, Ridges and Buffers’ and ‘Broadacre’ to ‘Urban Areas’ to enable urban development. A reconfiguration of the Murrumbidgee River Corridor is also proposed. The LDA’s proposal called for the town of Belconnen to be extended by setting aside for future urban development the area immediately to the west of the suburbs of Holt and Macgregor. West Belconnen was originally identified as area for urban investigation in the Canberra Spatial Plan (2004), and its development potential was confirmed in the ACT Planning Strategy in 2012.

The Plan sets broad land uses for the Territory, including the extent of ‘Urban Areas’, for which the Territory Plan defines specific uses. The NCA Draft Amendment process is occurring concurrently with a Territory Plan Variation (TPV). DA85 will redefine the broad land uses for the site in the General Policy Plan (Metropolitan Canberra) of the Plan, while a variation to the Territory Plan will define detailed urban land use provisions.

Key Achievements

On 22 May 2015 DA85 was released for public consultation concurrently with Territory Plan Draft Variation 351. The closing date for comments was 6 July 2015.

On 4 June 2015 a public information session was jointly hosted by the NCA and the ACT Government; 20 members of the public attended.

Draft Amendment – Block 10 Section 13 Forrest

The purpose of this Draft Amendment is to change the land use policy of Block 10 Section 13 Forrest from ‘Community Facility’ to ‘Land Use A’ in order to allow a broader range of uses, including ‘Diplomatic Mission’, ‘Residential’ and ‘Commercial Accommodation’ (excluding caravan park/camping ground). The draft amendment also introduces broad development controls pertaining to build form, design quality and landscape design.

The draft amendment was developed in response to a request received from the LDA in January 2014 to change the land use of Block 10 Section 13 Forrest to permit a broader range of land uses. On 20 February the Authority agreed to prepare a draft amendment to broaden the range of permitted land uses and establish design principles for the site. This Amendment offers flexibility to the ACT Government while ensuring that any development is appropriate for this prominent location on the final approach to the Parliamentary Zone and Parliament House.

The NCA is currently working with the ACT Government’s Land and Development Agency regarding site access and the permissible development envelope.

The Draft Amendment is expected to be released in the 2015–16 financial year.

Territory Plan Variations

Part IV of the Act provides for the ACT Legislative Assembly to establish a Territory planning authority responsible for preparing and administering a Territory Plan. The Planning and Land Authority of the Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate (ESDD) currently administers the Territory Plan.

Section 25(2) of the Act provides that the object of the Territory Plan is ‘to ensure, in a manner not inconsistent with the Plan, the planning and development of the Territory to provide the people of the Territory with an attractive, safe and efficient environment in which to live and work and have their recreation.’

The NCA considers draft Territory Plan variations to ensure their consistency with the Plan and its statutory object.

Key Achievements

During 2014–15 the NCA considered 13 Territory Plan Draft Variations, compared with 15 from the previous financial year. No variations were found to be inconsistent under the provisions of the Plan. Details of the Draft Variations are listed in Table 4.

Table 4: Territory plan draft variations considered in 2014–15
Variation No. Description of variation proposed Response
343 Draft Variation – Blocks surrendered under the loose fill asbestos insurance scheme Not Inconsistent
338 Draft Variation – Block 3 Section 54, Mitchell Not Inconsistent
336 Draft Variation – Block 8 Section 1 and Block 1 Section 115, Symonston Not Inconsistent
347 Draft Variation – University of Canberra Not Inconsistent
345 Draft Variation – Mawson Group Centre Not Inconsistent
344 Draft Variation – Woden Town Centre Not Inconsistent
329 Draft Variation – Weston Creek Group Centre Not Inconsistent
328 Draft Variation – Oaks Estate Not Inconsistent
319 Draft Variation – Zone and overlay changes to public land in the Gungahlin District Not Inconsistent
S232 Special Draft Variation – Mental Health Facility (part Blocks 11 and 14 Section 49 Symonston) Not Inconsistent
2014 - 14 Technical Amendment – Various code updates including city centre building heights, Tuggeranong stormwater requirements and definition of subdivision Not Inconsistent
2014 - 23 Technical Amendment – Amendments to urban open space overlay at Block Section Campbell Not Inconsistent
2015 - 06 Technical Amendment – Single dwelling house and multi-unit development codes, Coombs/Wright concept plan, Kingston precinct code Not Inconsistent

Planning and Urban Design Studies

The NCA examines a range of considerations to ensure that a holistic planning approach is adopted and, in turn, that only the most acceptable works are carried out in the National Capital. This work is vital in protecting the national interest in the planning, development and heritage of the National Capital. Background planning and urban design studies may contribute to the formulation of future amendments to the Plan. These studies and the resulting guidelines also provide guidance to land managers and site developers on how to apply the Plan at a specific precinct scale or site.

Kings and Commonwealth AvenuesKings and Commonwealth AvenuesParliamentary ZoneParliamentary ZoneCommonwealth ParkCommonwealth ParkCommonwealth ParkCommonwealth Park

Acton Peninsula Precinct Context Analysis

Acton Peninsula is an important precinct within the Central National Area (CNA). It provides an impressive setting for some of the most notable cultural institutions in Canberra, including the Australian National University (ANU), the National Museum of Australia (NMA) and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). These institutions and the activities they support are significant at both a local and national level, attract substantial visitor and local patronage, and help define the important contemporary appeal of the national capital.

The NCA is undertaking the Acton Peninsula Precinct Context Analysis to produce a planning and design framework, in conjunction with major site stakeholders, which defines the long-term aspirations for the precinct, guides new capital works and improves the quality of the public realm of Acton Peninsula and its activation.

Kings and Commonwealth Avenues Place Renewal Plan

Kings, Commonwealth and Constitution Avenues define the boundaries of the National Triangle and are a core element of the Griffins’ plan for Canberra.

In 2013 the NCA produced a Background and Issues Report, which revealed a general lack of coherence in the existing character of Kings and Commonwealth Avenues. The recommendations put forward by this report provided the basis to guide future work.

The Place Renewal Plan for Kings and Commonwealth Avenues commenced in January 2015. A Place Renewal Plan is a planning and design framework that will help guide future works and ensure that the avenues’ character is both memorable and functional. The Place Renewal Plan will re-establish the avenues’ important symbolic role; repair and re-conceptualise their layout, form and character; and guide the planning, design and physical-staged implementation of improvements.

Canberra Central Parklands Masterplan

The Canberra Central Parklands are located on the northern foreshore of the Central Basin of Lake Burley Griffin. Comprising Commonwealth Park, Rond Terraces and Kings Park, the parklands are both nationally significant owing to their place in the Griffin Plan and locally significant owing to their being one of the largest and most heavily used open spaces in central Canberra.

The NCA is currently revisiting the Canberra Central Parklands Masterplan (2010) with a view to producing an updated document which will guide the future planning and management of the Canberra Central Parklands and its adjacent areas over the next decade and beyond.

West Basin Precinct Guidelines

West Basin is located within a Designated Area, as defined in the Plan. Planning policy for the precinct is described within the Plan and the NCA is the agency responsible for granting approvals to development proposals.

Given the scale, locational importance and recent development plans under the City to the Lake proposal, the NCA determined that it was appropriate to provide guidance on the preferred character of the precinct and the issues that the NCA is likely to take into account when considering Works Approvals.

The guidelines are intended to ensure that a high quality of design and development on the lake’s edge is realised. A range of people, including land managers, developers, Commonwealth and ACT Governments and designers, will use the guidelines as the benchmark for the intended qualities of West Basin.

Urban Design Advice

The NCA provides urban design advice and liaises with community and industry representatives and with the ACT Government on planning and urban design matters.

Key Achievements

The NCA has provided urban design direction on a range of projects, including design advice to intergovernmental panels for the City to the Lake, Capital Metro, the Black Spot Panel and the Australia Forum.

The NCA has provided advice on the following projects:

  • City to the Lake and West Basin
  • Capital Metro Light Rail
  • City Plan
  • Constitution Avenue Renewal
  • Wendouree Drive
  • Windsor Walk
  • National Rock Garden
  • Beijing Gardens
  • Acton Peninsula Foreshore
  • ‘Boundless’, an all-abilities playground
  • Australia Forum (a proposed convention centre complex for Canberra)
  • Campbell Section 5
  • Parkes Section 3
  • Australian National University Masterplan.

Design Review Panel

The NCA’s Design Review Panel comprises experts Australia-wide to provide independent expert design guidance on major projects within Designated Areas in the Australian Capital Territory. The panel was created in recognition of the importance the NCA places on high-quality architectural, urban and landscape design, and of an understanding of the value good design adds to the city and the community. It met three times during 2014–15.

Heritage Management

The NCA manages a diverse portfolio of heritage places on behalf of the Australian Government. Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), the NCA is responsible for identifying, protecting and managing heritage places of National and Commonwealth Heritage value. The NCA is responsible for over 20 listed, five nominated and two indicative places on the Commonwealth Heritage List, and one nominated and two listed places on the National Heritage List.

National Heritage–listed places include Anzac Parade and the High Court–National Gallery Precinct. Lake Burley Griffin and Lakeshore Parklands have been nominated for National Heritage listing.

Commonwealth Heritage–listed places for which the NCA has responsibility include:

  • Acton Peninsula Building 1, 2 and 15
  • Acton Peninsula Limestone Outcrops
  • Air Disaster Memorial (nominated)
  • Australian–American Memorial and Sir Thomas Blamey Square
  • Blundells Cottage, slab outbuilding and surrounds
  • National Carillon
  • Canberra Main Sewer Outfall (Sewer Vent No. 1, Access Chambers and Tunnel) (nominated)
  • Changi Chapel
  • Commencement Column Monument
  • General Sir William Bridges’ Grave
  • High Court–National Gallery Precinct (part)
  • King George V Memorial
  • Lake Burley Griffin and Adjacent Lands (nominated)
  • National Rose Gardens
  • Old Parliament House Gardens
  • Parliament House Vista
  • Rond Terraces (nominated)
  • State Circle Cutting
  • Stirling Ridge
  • Surveyors Hut
  • York Park North Tree Plantation.

Key Achievements

Following recommendations outlined in the relevant Heritage Management Plans, the following planning reports and conservation works were undertaken during 2014–15:

  • Blundells Cottage Museum Interpretation Plan
  • Stonework conservation, internal painting and limewashing, and tree removal at Blundells Cottage
  • Stonework and metal conservation (Stage 2) at King George V Memorial.

Heritage Assessments

Under the EPBC Act, the NCA is required to assess the places it owns or manages and identify any Commonwealth Heritage values.

Key Achievements

In 2014–15 the NCA completed a heritage assessment for The Lobby; one of three surviving Australian Government cafeterias constructed in Canberra from the late 1950s. The assessment confirmed that The Lobby met the threshold for Commonwealth Heritage listing.

Heritage Management Plans

The EPBC Act requires the Minister responsible for heritage matters to make a written plan to protect and manage the Commonwealth Heritage values of each Commonwealth Heritage place.

Key Achievements

In 2014–15 the NCA completed Heritage Management Plans for the following places:

  • Old Parliament House Gardens
  • Surveyors Hut and Surveyors Park
  • Commencement Column Monument.

A Heritage Management Plan is being prepared for:

  • Acton Peninsula Buildings 1, 2 and 15
  • Surveyors Hut and Surveyors Park
  • Acton Peninsula Limestone Outcrops.

Self-Assessment of Significant Impacts

The EPBC Act requires Commonwealth agencies to undertake a self-assessment process to determine whether any action may have a significant impact on a matter protected by the EPBC Act. Any action that may have such an impact must be referred to the Minister responsible for the EPBC Act.

Key Achievements

In 2014–15 the NCA prepared the following self-assessments for proposed actions:

  • Tree removal at Blundells Cottage
  • Installation of the Dunstable Reel sculpture by Phillip King, loaned by the National Gallery of Australia, at Bowen Place Crossing, Parkes.

No proposed actions were referred to the Minister responsible for the EPBC Act.

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