The ACT's new Planning Act 2023 and new Territory Plan: understanding the move to an outcomes-based approach

Alfonso del Rio, Chelsea White
19 Jul 2023
Time to read: 4 minutes

ACT's new planning system is intended to give greater flexibility and a more streamlined process, and the new Territory Plan will play an important role in achieving these aims.

The Planning Act 2023, passed on 6 June 2023, represents a significant adjustment to the ACT's planning system as it implements an outcomes-based approach to planning, adopts the use of strategic planning instruments and streamlines the development approval process.

Several sections of the Planning Act commenced on 19 June 2023 and 20 June 2023, mainly sections which provide for the preparation of instruments required to administer the ACT planning system including a new Territory Plan, Design Guides, Technical Specifications and District Strategies. Here, we'll give you an overview of the new Territory Plan which is intended to replace the current Territory Plan 2008.

The 2008 Plan guides the planning and development in the Australian Capital Territory, outlining the type of development which can occur, where it can occur and its design. The new Plan will function in a similar manner, but differs to address criticisms levelled at the 2008 Plan, including:

  • inflexibility to accommodate better design outcomes and more appropriate development;
  • inability to address future, long-term planning challenges; and
  • complexity preventing full participation by the community.

The most notable change is the absence of detailed mandatory codes in the new Plan. The equivalent provisions will be located in supporting documentation which, while provided for in the Planning Act, will not form part of the new Plan. Supporting documentation is intended to assist with the interpretation and application of the zone policies and district policies of the new Plan.

Image of Territory Plan 2008    
Image of New Territory Plan 2023   

Territory Plan 2008 vs New Territory Plan

Administration and Governance

2008: Sets out the object of the Plan, its functions and relationship with the National Capital Plan, Planning Strategy, the role of the Plan map and how the Development Approval system operates.

2023: Pared back to limited details. Similar details to those in the Territory Plan 2008 are in the Planning Act 2023.

New Plan includes a detailed map of the ACT showing the zones and districts to which the Plan applies.


2008: Sets out the object of the Plan, its functions and relationship with the National Capital Plan, Planning Strategy, the role of the Plan map and how the Development Approval system operates.

2023: Summarises each part of the new Plan and explains the function of supporting documentation.

Provides some detail on how a development application will be assessed and decided under the new Plan.

Strategic Planning and Principles of good planning

2008: Sets out principles for sustainable development, spatial planning and urban design.

2023: Purpose is to promote the principles of good planning set out in section 10 of the Planning Act 2023.

Zone Policies

2008: Each section corresponds with zones delineated in the Plan map.

Each zone has a number of development tables which set out uses permitted without approval, uses which require approval and prohibited uses.

Each zone has a development code which lists mandatory criteria that a development application must satisfy.

2023: Each policy corresponds with zones delineated in the new Plan map and allocates land uses and development opportunities.

Each zone policy will set out:

  • desired policy outcomes unique to each zone; and
  • key assessment requirements and expected assessment outcomes for a development application in the relevant zone.
District Policies

2008: Detailed precinct maps and codes for suburbs and districts in the ACT.

Development table provides for uses which may be approved and uses which are prohibited in the relevant suburb or district.

The precinct codes for the suburb or district set out mandatory criteria which a development application must satisfy.

2023: Nine district policies for the urban areas of the ACT. There do not appear to be any policies for areas with rural characteristics such as Stromlo.

The district policies set out:

  • the land and use table for that district which lists additional permitted development and prohibited development within specific suburbs of that district;
  • desired policy outcomes unique to that district. The policy outcomes are derived from the relevant district strategies. District strategies are prepared under the Planning Act 2023 and are designed to bridge the gap between Planning Strategy and the new Plan; and
  • assessment requirements and outcomes for specific suburbs within the relevant district.
Other policies

2023: The new Plan is also proposed to include policies necessary for the orderly and proper planning of the ACT, including:

  • a subdivision policy, for the assessment of development applications which involve subdivision; and
  • a lease variation policy, to assess applications for new and additional uses under a Crown lease.

Supporting documents

Supporting documents will be a new element in the ACT planning framework. The detailed codes set out in the Plan are proposed to be replaced with supporting documentation which is currently comprised of the technical specifications and design guides.

The technical specification and design guides do not form part of the new Plan. The intention is that the documents will assist with the interpretation and application of the zone policies and district policies to development applications.

Design Guides

It is intended that the design guides will assist in the interpretation of the policy outcomes, assessment requirements and assessment outcomes under the zone policies and district policies.

The design guides are proposed to contain some quantitative performance outcomes, offer design solutions, contain design options that go beyond minimum design requirements and identify design options to be avoided.

Two guides are currently proposed, the Urban Design Guide and the Housing Design Guide:

  • the Housing Design Guide will address housing design elements such as visual privacy, solar access, common space and ventilation; and
  • the Urban Design Guide will address design elements for certain large-scale developments such as precinct scale development and developments comprising more than 1,000m2 of public or common space.
Technical Specifications

The Planning Act 2023 requires the new Plan to include provisions that "support compliance with requirements for undertaking development".

Each zone policy and district policy will contain development compliance provisions which provide that where a proposed development complies with the relevant element of a technical specification, further assessment for the element covered by the technical specification is unlikely to the required.

The technical specifications are separate to the zone and district policies and do not form part of the new Plan. The technical specifications set out numerical and quantifiable criteria such as building setbacks, building heights and carparking quotas. Compliance with technical specifications for a proposed development will not be mandatory.

Eight draft technical specifications have been prepared to cover matters such as residential, commercial and industrial development. Each technical specification identifies a suite of design issues it addresses and acceptable solutions for each issue.

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