The National Capital Plan (the Plan) is the strategy and blueprint giving effect to the Commonwealth’s interests and intentions for planning, designing and developing Canberra and the Territory.

Australia's National Capital officially came into being in January 1911, when title to 911 square miles of land in the ‘district of Yass-Canberra’ was passed to the Commonwealth by the State of New South Wales. The Seat of Government Acceptance Act of 1909 provided that the Territory would be acquired by the Commonwealth for the Seat of Government and that it would be known as the Federal Capital Territory.

Canberra's function as the Seat of Government and as the nation's capital have been the basis for the establishment of Australia's principal governmental, judicial, cultural, scientific, educational, and military institutions. It has resulted in foreign governments establishing diplomatic missions and residences, and in an increasing number of national organisations and institutions seeking a presence in the capital.

The gradual accumulation of important national functions has been accompanied by a growing awareness of Canberra's significance in Australia's national and international life.

The present city of Canberra is far bigger than most of its founders ever imagined. But at each stage of its growth, great care has been taken to maintain a quality and standard of development appropriate to Australia’s capital.

The introduction of self-government for the Australian Capital Territory in 1988 created a circumstance where two governments, the Australian Government and the ACT Government, share responsibility for the further development of the Territory.

The ACT Government is responsible for managing the affairs of the Territory on a parliamentary, legislative, administrative and financial basis comparable to the Australian States. The ACT Government also manages those functions which, in the States, are performed by local government. The ACT Legislative Assembly has the general power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Territory.

Canberra's role and functioning as the National Capital remains a responsibility of the Australian Government. The Australian Government has a direct responsibility for locations and functions that reflect Canberra as the National Capital.

The Australian Constitution provides that:

‘The Seat of Government of the Commonwealth shall be determined by the Parliament, and shall be within territory which shall have been granted to or acquired by the Commonwealth, and shall be vested in and belong to the Commonwealth…’.

Under the Constitutional provision, the Commonwealth remains the owner of land in the Territory even after the granting of self-government. The Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Act 1988 provides that land used by or on behalf of the Commonwealth may be declared National Land, and managed by the Commonwealth. The remaining lands of the Territory are Territory Land and these lands are managed by the ACT Government on behalf of the Commonwealth.

In order to maintain a broad oversight of planning in the Territory as a whole, and to ensure its involvement in the planning, design and development of those areas having the special characteristics of the National Capital, the Commonwealth established the National Capital Authority to reflect its interests and carry out its intentions.

The purpose of the Plan is to ensure that the Commonwealth’s national capital interests in the Territory are protected, without otherwise involving the Commonwealth in matters that should be the prerogative of the Canberra community. The Plan establishes the following matters of national significance in the planning and development of Canberra and the Territory:

  • The pre-eminence of the role of Canberra and the Territory as the centre of National Capital functions, and as the symbol of Australian national life and values.
  • Conservation and enhancement of the landscape features which give the National Capital its character and setting, and which contribute to the integration of natural and urban environments.
  • Respect for the key elements of the Griffins’ formally adopted plan for Canberra.
  • Creation, conservation and enhancement of fitting sites, approaches and backdrops for national institutions and ceremonies as well as National Capital Uses.
  • The development of a city which both respects environmental values and reflects national concerns with the sustainability of Australia’s urban areas.

Having regard to these matters, at its broadest level the Plan prescribes broad land use controls across the whole of the Territory. At its most detailed level, the Plan sets out detailed conditions of planning, design and development for those areas identified as having the special characteristics of the National Capital.

The matters of national significance and principles and policies of the Plan ensure that the physical setting of the National Capital and the quality of its buildings and public spaces are befitting of the National Capital.