One of the most complex areas of planning in the ACT is strategic and metropolitan planning, which includes urban form, land use, transport and infrastructure.

The National Capital Plan currently sets out the broad pattern of land use across the whole Territory. The General Policy Plans of the National Capital Plan identify new urban development areas and those areas not to be developed for broadscale urban use. This effectively sets an 'urban growth boundary' beyond which urban development cannot occur without an amendment to the Plan.

The General Policy Plan for Metropolitan Canberra is shown below. As well as showing the general pattern of land use across the Territory, this plan also shows the general location of town centres, industrial areas, tourist centres, the national and arterial road network and an indicative intertown public transport route.

Changes to Canberra's urban form require public consultation, ministerial consideration, and Australian Parliamentary scrutiny of National Capital Plan amendments. The ACT Government is also required to complete their own processes to amend their statutory planning instruments.

Map depicting the general metropolitan structure and land use categories, arterial and national road system, and inter-town public transport system across the city of Canberra and immediate surrounds.

Proposed changes

Land use planning and urban form are the key areas for consideration, as this is the component that currently requires involvement from both the Australian and ACT Governments. Under the proposed arrangements a general policy plan would remain however strategic land use planning would largely be the responsibility of the ACT Government.

The population of the ACT is projected to grow from an estimated 365,000 (in 2011) to 457,300 by 2030. To guide urban growth over this period, the ACT Government has adopted the 'ACT Planning Strategy (July 2012)'. This strategy identifies that growth will be accommodated through both urban intensification and greenfield development. A number of areas where greenfield expansion could occur are identified, although it is recognised that the layout and extent of future urban areas are subject to detailed review and the outcomes of statutory approval processes.

The NCA proposes that as the ACT Government has a key role in city and strategic planning, greater flexibility be given to the Territory to determine where the city's growth occurs, and reduce complexity in the planning process to allow this to occur.

The NCA proposes to adopt a principles-based approach to metropolitan planning in the ACT. Under this approach, the Plan would include 'national interest' principles to be incorporated as part of broad framework for land use for the Territory. 'Potential Future Urban' areas, agreed by the NCA and ACT Government would also be identified. Written principles and policies would accompany this land use framework.

Where ACT Government agencies, through appropriate urban suitability studies, identify that a 'Potential Future Urban' area is required to accommodate city growth, the responsible ACT Government agencies would advise the NCA and seek confirmation from the NCA that the proposal is not inconsistent with the Commonwealth's interest in the National Capital. Should the NCA endorse the proposal, the ACT Government could proceed without further engagement with the NCA.

Should the NCA consider the proposal to be inconsistent with national interest principles, the NCA would seek ministerial views prior to making a final determination. Australian Parliamentary scrutiny of these urban growth areas would no longer be required.

This approach provides greater autonomy to the ACT Government and streamlines planning approval processes for new urban areas, without enacting legislative change. The Commonwealth maintains a level of engagement through the Plan and the NCA, and the ACT Government is still required to consult on proposals.

The proposed General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra is shown below. 'Potential Future Urban' areas area identified at Symonston, in the Majura Valley and in the West Murrumbidgee area. These are the areas where the ACT Government will have greater autonomy in land use planning.

Other key changes to the General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra include:

  • changing the status of some arterial roads from 'proposed' to 'existing' where the roads have been constructed or a final route determined.
  • applying recommendations of the National Capital Open Space System Review Report, such as incorporating existing sections of Canberra Nature Park that are adjacent to or function as part of NCOSS landscapes, but are currently within Urban Areas, into the NCOSS.
  • significant reduction of urban areas in the Gungahlin district. (These changes are also consistent with NCOSS Review Report recommendations.)
  • removing the 'area under investigation for urban use' in the vicinity of EPIC and the racecourse and changing the land use policy to Urban Areas.
  • extending urban boundaries near Pialligo, in Fyshwick and West Belconnen.
  • amending the indicative inter-town public transport route to more accurately reflect current and planned public transport services.
  • removing identified tourist centres - the Plan is not required to identify these locations, the NCA does not have a direct interest in the planning of tourist centres and these centres do not accurately reflect current tourist activity in the ACT.

A full description of changes is available here.

The NCA has recently released Draft Amendment 85 - West Belconnen Urban Development (DA85). DA85 is reflected in the Exposure Draft of the Plan.

General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra

Map depicting the general metropolitan structure and land use categories, arterial and national road system, and inter-town public transport system across the city of Canberra and immediate surrounds.

Case study

The National Capital Authority recently released National Capital Plan Draft Amendment 85 - West Belconnen Urban Development (DA85) to change the land use policy of land at West Belconnen from open space to urban. The amendment process requires Ministerial approval and Parliamentary scrutiny.

Under the proposed arrangements, if West Belconnen was identified as 'Potential Future Urban', the ACT Government could have sought endorsement for the proposal under the 'national interest' principles. The National Capital Authority would consider the proposal against these principles only, removing the need for amendment to the National Capital Plan. The timing of the project would then be a matter for the Territory.

General Policy Plans Background

Current arrangements

The General Policy Plans (Australian Capital Territory and Metropolitan Canberra) set out the broad framework for land use in the Territory. The General Policy Plans show which areas are planned for urban development and which areas are not to be developed for broadscale urban use.

In addition to setting out the broad land use framework, the General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra also depicts:

  • the general location of town centres and industrial areas
  • the approximate location of national and arterial roads
  • the location of key tourist centres (such as Gold Creek)
  • inter-town public transport routes
  • areas under investigation for urban use.

What has been done

2.1 General Policy Plan - Australian Capital Territory

The revised General Policy Plan - Australian Capital Territory shows land use primarily for the mountains and bushland areas to the south and south-west of the city. Some small areas of the Murrumbidgee and Molonglo river corridors are shown, as well as small portions of rural land to the east and west of the Territory.

The colours of the General Policy Plan - Australian Capital Territory have been amended to reflect a more contemporary colour palette.

2.2 General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra

The changes proposed to the General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra are described in detail below.

2.2.1 'Proposed' arterial roads

The General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra currently shows the arterial road network as either 'existing' or 'proposed'. Presently, arterial roads in the Gungahlin and Molonglo Districts, and Majura Parkway, are all 'proposed'. Roads in completed urban centres, such as Belconnen, Tuggeranong, Woden, and Canberra Central, are all shown as 'existing'.

Many of the arterial roads in Gungahlin are already constructed (and therefore 'existing'). An alignment for Majura Parkway has been agreed and work has commenced on the road. Urban development in the Molonglo District is underway and work on major arterials has begun.

The General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra has been amended to show these arterial roads as 'existing' rather than 'proposed'.

2.2.2 National Capital Open Space System Review Report

Recommendation nine of the National Capital Open Space System Review Report (February 2014) states:

Amend the General Policy Plan within the Plan to incorporate:

  • existing sections of Canberra Nature Park that are adjacent to/or function as part of NCOSS landscapes, but are currently within Urban Areas, into the NCOSS.
  • new sections of Canberra Nature Park or areas declared by the Territory Plan to form part of hills, ridges and buffer areas to be part of the NCOSS.

Changes to land use category boundaries have been made based on this recommendation. These changes, supported by the ACT Government, result in an increase to the National Capital Open Space System and more adequately reflect land use patterns in these areas.

2.2.3 Urban boundaries in the Gungahlin District

In December 2013, the NCA received a request from the ACT Government's Economic Development Directorate (EDD) to amend the Plan. The request from EDD to amend the Plan is in response to the outcomes of the Gungahlin Strategic Assessment Biodiversity Plan (Biodiversity Plan), approved by the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment in July 2013.

Strategic assessments under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) are landscape scale assessments. Unlike project-by-project assessments, which look at individual actions, strategic assessments consider a much broader set of actions. They are suitable for projects such as the development of Gungahlin (an urban growth area) which will be developed over many years.

The Biodiversity Plan assessed the potential impacts from development in the remaining greenfield sites in Gungahlin, on Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES) protected under the EPBC Act. The Biodiversity Plan identifies new areas for conservation as well as extensions to existing Nature Reserves. The Biodiversity Plan also commits the ACT Government to ensuring that certain areas are transitioned into protected Nature Reserves prior to construction commencing in adjacent urban areas.

Having regard to MNES and biodiversity conservation, the approved Biodiversity Plan for the Gungahlin District identifies future conservation areas, including the expansion of some existing Nature Reserves as well as the creation of new Nature Reserves. These future conservation areas currently form part of Canberra's 'Urban Areas' as depicted in the General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra.

To implement the changes requested by ESDD, changes to land use category boundaries in the General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra are required. Specifically, the effect of an amendment would be to:

  • include additional conservation areas in the suburb of Throsby in the Hills, Rides and Buffer Spaces land use category area.
  • include the proposed Kinleyside Nature Reserve, and the Horse Park North, Jacka and Taylor conservation areas in the Hills, Ridges and Buffer Spaces land use category area.
  • include the proposed Kenny Nature Reserve in the Hills, Ridges and Buffer Spaces land use policy area.

2.2.4 Areas under investigation for urban use

A number of 'Areas under investigation for urban use' are identified in the current General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra. These areas are to the north-west of the existing Belconnen district, at the junction of the Federal and Barton Highways, and in the Jerrabomberra-Symonston area. The NCA has examined 'Areas under investigation for urban use' in the context of current planning and infrastructure projects and has determined that a number of changes are warranted to the General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra:

  • The current 'Area under investigation for urban use' in the north-west Belconnen area has been removed. There are no plans to investigate this area for urban development. There have however, been comprehensive studies undertaken into expansion of the urban area on the south-west fringe of the Belconnen district. This expansion of the West Belconnen area has been agreed by both the NCA and the ACT Government, with the NCA recently releasing 'Draft Amendment 85 - West Belconnen Urban Area'. The revised General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra reflects DA85.
  • The current 'Area under investigation for urban use' in the vicinity of EPIC and the racecourse has been changed to urban.
  • Amendment 84 to the National Capital Plan created a new site within 'Urban Areas' to facilitate the development of a bulky goods retailing facility close to Canberra International Airport. The ACT Government's Eastern Broadacre Planning Study (2009) supported the use of the broader area for employment uses. The new area identified as an 'Area under investigation for urban use' reflects the boundary from the Eastern Broadacre Planning Study.
  • Urban development at West Murrumbidgee was considered by the National Capital Development Commission in the 1970s. The NCA understands that dues to environmental impacts and infrastructure cost considerations, the proposal was set aside. There has been renewed interest in the West Murrumbidgee area, with the idea that expanding Tuggeranong will provide the critical mass necessary to help the town centre overcome the challenges of a small population.

The revised General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra illustrates these changes.

2.2.5 Urban boundaries to the east of Fyshwick

The ACT Government has previously requested that the NCA prepare a draft amendment to the Plan to change the land use of sites along Canberra Avenue east of the developing Fyshwick industrial area (Section 47 Fyshwick). The purpose of this amendment would be to change the land use policy from Broadacre Areas and River Corridors to Urban Areas. On advice from the ACT Government that a number of issues still required resolution, the NCA did not progress the amendment. It is likely that this change will be required in the future to increase the supply of industrial land in Canberra. The change to the General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra anticipates this occurring.

The Eastern Industrial Estate, located adjacent to the ACT-NSW border is currently within Broadacre Areas under the Plan. Industrial uses are typically not permitted within Broadacre Areas and the Plan provides an exemption for this to occur at the Eastern Industrial Estate. The revised General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra shows this estate as being within Urban Areas, akin to the situation for other industrial estates in the ACT (Hume, Mitchell and Fyshwick). This reflects the actual use of the site.

2.2.6 Inter-town public transport routes

An indicative inter-town public transport route is currently shown connecting Gungahlin, Canberra Central (Inner North and Inner South Canberra), Belconnen, Woden, and Tuggeranong. An inter-town route is also shown through the new urban area of Molonglo, however this route is not connected to the existing network.

Amendments have been made to the General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra to ensure that the inter-town public transport routes connect where necessary and more accurately show established routes.

2.2.7 Tourist centres

The general location of Gold Creek Tourist Centre (in the north) and Rose Cottage (in the south) are currently identified on the General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra. The National Capital Authority does not have a direct interest in the planning of these tourist centres and there is no requirement for the Plan to specify tourist centre locations. The General Policy Plan has been amended to remove the identified tourist centres.

2.2.8 Uncommitted land

The General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra currently shows some land in the Gungahlin District and adjacent areas as not being part of any land use category. These areas are shown as white on the current plan. This 'uncommitted land' was introduced into the Plan through Amendment 19 (gazetted in 1997), which facilitated duplication of the Federal Highway between the ACT-NSW border and Stirling Avenue, Watson. At the time, it was noted that additional road infrastructure may be required (for example, high-speed slip lanes), however this would be subject to future assessment.

As part of the proposed changes to the Gungahlin urban boundary, it is proposed that the 'uncommitted land' become part of the Hills, Ridges and Buffer Spaces or Broadacre Areas land use categories. 'Road' is a permitted use within each of these land use category areas and inclusion of the land within either of these policy areas will not exclude road infrastructure being built in this location in the future.

2.2.9 Colour

The colours of the General Policy Plan - Metropolitan Canberra have been amended to reflect a more contemporary colour palette.

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