Legislation overview

Planning in the Australian Capital Territory

A dual planning regime, not dissimilar to other jurisdictions, is established for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). The Australian Government and ACT Government share planning responsibility in the ACT.

The Australian Government is responsible for Canberra's role and functioning to serve its national purposes. This means that the Australian Government is responsible and accountable to all Australians for decisions about their national capital and is the guardian of the national interest in the capital. The Australian Government's abiding interest and commitment is essential to the future development and enhancement of Canberra as the National Capital.

The National Capital Plan (the Plan) secures the Australian Government's continuing interest in ensuring that 'Canberra and the Territory are planned and developed in accordance with their national significance', as set out in section 9 of the Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land management) Act 1988 (the Act). The Act is available on ComLaw. More specifically, ' the purpose of the National Capital Plan is to ensure that the Commonwealth's national capital interests in the Territory are fully protected, without otherwise involving the Commonwealth in matters that should be the prerogative of the Canberra community.' (Second Reading)

The ACT Government is responsible for the normal day-to-day planning and development matters. More specifically, the Territory Plan ensures that the Territory is planned and developed 'in a manner not inconsistent with the National Capital 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', as set out in section 25 of the Act. The Territory Plan can be accessed through the ACT Government's Environment and Planning Directorate's website.

The Act makes it clear that the Plan prevails over the Territory Plan, but the two plans are intended to be complementary. Further to this, the Explanatory Memorandum states that 'the Plan (National Capital Plan) will be legally binding on both the ACT and the Commonwealth'.

The role of the National Capital Authority

The NCA secures the Australian Government's interest in the planning and development of the National Capital to ensure that it continues to serve its national purposes. The NCA's planning responsibilities are:

  • prepare and administer (which includes determining development applications) the Plan; and
  • keep the Plan under constant review and to propose amendments to it when necessary.

The National Capital belongs to all Australians. The NCA's vision is for a national capital which symbolises Australia's heritage, values and aspirations, is internationally recognised and worthy of pride by all Australians. The NCA's mission is to build the national capital in the hearts of all Australians.

The National Capital Plan

The Act sets out the objective of the Plan which is 'to ensure that Canberra and the Territory are planned and developed in accordance with their national significance'. For giving effect to this objective, the Act also sets out the matters which are to be covered in the Plan. More specifically:

  • the Plan may specify areas of land that have the special characteristics of the National Capital to be Designated Areas. (The NCA is required to give Works Approval prior to any works being undertaken in these areas.)
  • the Plan:
    • shall define the planning principles and policies for giving effect to the object of the Plan and, in particular, shall set standards for the maintenance and enhancement of the character of the national capital and set general standards and aesthetic principles to be adhered to in the development of the national capital;
    • shall set out the general policies to be implemented throughout the entire Territory, being policies of:
      • land use (including the range and nature of permitted land use);
      • the planning of national and arterial road systems;
    • may set out the detailed conditions of planning, design and development in Designated Areas and the priorities in carrying out such planning, design and development; and
    • may set out special requirements for the development of any area (not being a Designated Area), being requirements for areas under Territory jurisdiction that are desirable in the interests of the National Capital. (Special Requirements may be formalised through the use of Development Control Plans).