Planning Bill 2022 (ACT) – a move towards outcomes-based planning

Danielle Mildren, Chelsea White and Sabina Prus-Wisniowski
07 Mar 2023
Time to read: 4 minutes

The Planning Bill, accompanied by a new Territory Plan and district strategies, represents a significant overhaul of the ACT's planning framework.

On 21 September 2022, the Planning Bill 2022 (ACT) was presented to the ACT Legislative Assembly for consideration which, if passed, will replace the Planning and Development Act 2007 (ACT) (PD Act). The Planning Bill is the first of three major areas of reform of the Australian Capital Territory's planning system:

  • the Planning Bill;
  • a new Territory Plan; and
  • the introduction of district strategies.

The PD Act sets out the legal planning framework for the Australian Capital Territory and provides the formal procedures for assessing development proposals and acquiring the grant of licenses and Crown leases. The Planning Bill purports to deliver simpler and easier planning systems with better design and environmental outcomes for the Territory.

Key changes to the planning framework under the Planning Bill include implementing an outcomes-based approach to planning, adopting the use of strategic planning instruments and streamlining the development approval process.

The Planning Bill, accompanied by a new Territory Plan and district strategies, represents a significant overhaul of the Territory's planning framework. It will potentially provide greater flexibility for developers through:

  • adopting a development assessment process which is focused less on code-compliance and more on good planning outcomes;
  • permitting proponent-initiated amendments to the Territory Plan; and
  • the designation of major developments as Territory Priority Projects.

The operation of the Territory's planning framework is not yet certain as the drafting of the Territory Plan and District Strategies may be subject to further changes as a result of ongoing consultation.

Planning and Development Act 2007

Planning Bill 2022

Object of the Act

Limited to:

  • orderly and sustainable development
  • social, environmental and economic aspirations of the people of the Territory; and
  •  sound financial principles. 

Expanded objects to, among other things:

  • identify an outcomes-focussed approach to planning in the Territory;
  • achieve consistency with new planning strategies and policies; and
  • provide a scheme for better community consultation. 
Principles of good planning

Not a concept.

  • Consideration of principles of good planning necessary to achieve planning outcomes. Principles include activation and liveability, cultural heritage, high quality design, integrated delivery, investment facilitation, long term focus, natural environment conservation, sustainability and resilience and urban regeneration.
  • Separate to principles of good planning, the Planning Bill sets out principles of good consultation for which the Minister for Planning and Land Management may prepare guidelines on how the principles are to be implemented.
Territory Planning Authority

Planning and Land Authority functions set out in section 12 of the PD Act.

  • Territory Planning Authority established, a new entity with similar functions.
  • Changes to the Territory Planning Authority's functions to acknowledge the outcomes-based approach, changes to the development approval process and emphasis on strategic planning.
Strategic Planning

Provides for the Planning Strategy, Estate Development Plans and Statements of Planning Intent.

  • Larger focus on strategic planning under the Planning Bill with desired planning outcomes to be set by strategic plans and given effect through the Territory Plan and controls.
  • Planning Strategy a relevant consideration when amending the Territory Plan.
  • Introduction of district strategies, a layer of strategic planning to bridge the gap between the Planning Strategy and the Territory Plan. The district strategies will be a relevant consideration for any proponent-initiated amendments to the Territory Plan.
  • Estate Development Plans now referred to as Subdivision Design Applications (which must be consistent with the relevant district strategy).
  • Statements of Planning Intent now referred to as Statements of Planning Priorities.
Territory Plan

Minor amendments prepared and approved by the Planning and Land Authority. Major amendments subject to public consultation and approved by the Minister.

  • Outcomes focused Territory Plan.
  • Amendment process is similar to the PD Act.
  • Proponents can propose amendments to the Territory Plan.
  • Minister can consult with the community on whether the Territory Plan should be reviewed.
  • Removal of strategic environmental assessments.
Significant Development

Not a concept.

  • Significant developments include development which requires a Subdivision Design Application, consultation with the Design Review Panel and/or an environmental impact statement (EIS).
  • EIS exemption in the PD Act removed.
  • Significant developments must be open for public consultation for a longer period and the Territory Planning Authority has a longer timeframe to determine the application.
  • Significant developments must meet additional documentation and assessment requirements compared to a standard development proposal.
  • A significant development cannot be an exempt development.  
Development assessment
  • Three assessment tracks for development proposals: code, merit and impact tracks.
  • Assessment focused on code compliance.
  • Prescriptive codes set out in Territory Plan. 
  • Single pathway for the assessment of development proposals.
  • Introduction of pre-decision advice given to proponents.
  • Endorsement from the Suburban Land Agency required in some circumstances prior to the lodgement of a development application.
  • Referral of development applications to other entities to be guided by regulations or Territory Plan. The Territory Planning Authority retains discretion to refer a proposal to other relevant areas of government for advice.
  • Public notification of a development application is required unless a regulation provides otherwise.
  • Broadened relevant considerations when determining a development application.
Exempt Development
  • Certain low-risk developments can occur without development approval, for example, an authorised use where no works are required.

Proponents can apply for an EIS exemption for a development proposal.

  • Exemptions largely retained and relocated to the new exempt development regulation.
  • EIS exemption removed.
Territory Priority Projects

Minister can "call-in" a development application for consideration and potential determination. 

Minister and Chief Minister can jointly declare a development proposal to be a Territory Priority Project if satisfied that it:

  • would achieve a major government policy;
  • would achieve a desired planning outcome set out in the Planning Strategy, a relevant district strategy, the Territory Plan or any relevant zone; or
  • is a significant infrastructure or facilities.

A Territory Priority Project must be decided by the Minister.

Leases and licences
  • A lessee can apply to the Planning and Land Authority to have the concessional status of a lease removed.
  • The Planning and Land Authority must refuse an application to vary a concessional lease if the Minister decides that it is not in the public interest to approve the application.
  • A development application proposing to remove a concessional lease status must be referred to the Minister for determination.
  • Minister cannot approve the removal of the concessional status without the ACT Government Executive’s approval
  • Territory Planning Authority can authorise the use of land for additional purposes temporarily where there is a significant public benefit and time pressures. 
Development Offences and Controlled Activities

The Planning and Land Authority has no discretion to dismiss frivolous or vexatious applications for controlled activity orders. 

More discretion is granted to the Territory Planning Authority in determining a complaint regarding a controlled activity including the ability to prepare guidelines about the action that may be taken in relation to complaints.

Access to Information

Certain development application information and documents are required to be publicly available on the planning website. 

  • Greater use of the planning website.
  • Requirements for the publication of more information, such as the advice and decisions of the Territory Planning Authority. 
Review of decisions
  • Identifies reviewable decisions, entities who can seek review and any interested entities.
  • 17 matters identified as exempt from merits review in the regulations.
  • Limitation on ACAT’s review jurisdiction in relation to several matters. 
  • 8 matters identified as exempt from merits review including decisions on Subdivision Design Applications in greenfield areas and Territory Priority Projects.
  • Limitations on the ACAT's review jurisdiction removed. 

Single set of regulations covering a range of matters such as strategic environmental assessments, exempt development, environmental impact statements and the administration of leases. 

  • Two sets of regulations, one for exempt development and one for general matters relating mainly to the development approval process and administration of the Planning Bill.
  • New exemptions to be included into the exempt development regulations for street art and minor utility works. 

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