The legal framework for planning and development is established by the Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Act 1988 (Commonwealth),the PALM Act. The PALM Act provided for the self-government of the ACT and the transition from oversight of planning and development by the National Capital Development Corporation. The Act provides the regulatory framework for planning and development within the ACT. The PALM Act s6 establishes the National Capital Authority to prepare and administer a National Capital Plan, oversight of Designated Areas and to manage National Land on behalf of the Commonwealth. The requirement for the establishment of a Territory planning authority with responsibility for the preparation of a “Territory Plan” is set out in s25. The object (s25 (2)) of the Territory Plan is “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”. The PALM Act s26 then ensures its alignment with the National Capital Plan stating, “The Territory Plan has no effect to the extent that it is inconsistent with the National Capital Plan, but the Territory Plan shall be taken to be consistent with the National Capital Plan to the extent that it is capable of operating concurrently with the National Capital Plan”.
The National Capital Plan is prepared and administered by the National Capital Authority under the Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Act 1988 (Cwlth). The National Capital Plan is the strategic plan for Canberra and the Territory and ensures that 'Canberra and the Territory are planned and developed in accordance with their national significance.' The key matters of national significance include:
The National Capital Plan establishes a broad framework broad planning principles and policies for land use and development for Canberra and the Territory. It also sets out detailed conditions of planning, design and development for the 'Designated Areas' because of their particular importance to the special character of the national capital. These areas are considered by the Commonwealth to be of particular importance to maintaining the special characteristics of the National Capital. Within Designated Areas responsibility for development controls rests with the National Capital Authority. Designated Areas comprise Canberra’s system of Inner Hills and Ridges, the Main Avenues and Approach Routes to the city, and the Central National Area, including the Parliamentary Zones and environs, the diplomatic areas, Lake Burley Grifﬁn and its foreshores, and the main national institutions and symbols of Commonwealth governance. All development and works proposed within the Designated Areas require approval by the National Capital Authority.
The requirement of s25 of the PALM Act to establish an ACT planning authority, legal planning framework for the Territory and Territory Plan is met by the Planning and Development Act 2007 (ACT). The object of this Act (s6) is “to provide a planning and land system that contributes to the orderly and sustainable development of the ACT—(a) consistent with the social, environmental and economic aspirations of the people of the ACT; and(b) in accordance with sound financial principles”.
The Planning and Development Act (2007) Chapter 5, sets out the requirements for the Territory Plan. The object of the Territory Plan (s46) is “to ensure, in a manner not inconsistent with the national capital plan, the planning and development of the ACT provide the people of the ACT with an attractive, safe and efficient environment in which to live, work and have their recreation”. The Territory Plan is a subordinate statutory instrument termed a “notifiable instrument”.
The Planning and Development Act (2007) s105 also sets out the requirement for a “planning strategy for the ACT that sets out long term planning policy and goals to promote the orderly and sustainable development of the ACT, consistent with the social, environmental and economic aspirations of the people of the ACT”.
The Act also provides the formal processes for assessment of development proposals and the arrangements for leases and licences.
The Territory Plan is thus the key statutory planning document in the ACT, providing the policy framework for the administration of planning in the ACT. The purpose of the Territory Plan is to manage land use change and development in a manner consistent with strategic directions set by the ACT Government, Legislative Assembly and the community, and it must not be inconsistent with the National Capital Plan. The Planning and Development Act 2007 (ACT) s46 to s104 specifies in detail the requirements of the Territory Plan.
The Planning and Development Act s51 requires that the Territory Plan must include a statement of strategic directions; objectives for each zone; development tables; codes; and a map (the territory plan map) and these are provided in s52 to 56. The Territory Plan also includes a series of general, development codes, precinct codes, structure plans and concept plans for the development of future urban areas. The Act sets out the means by which variations to the Territory Plan may be approved including through subordinate instruments of “special variations” and “technical amendments. Technical variations include :errors, code variations, zone or boundary changes, or to ensure consistency with the National Capital Plan. Limited consultation is required for code variations and variations in relation to the rezoning of future urban areas (Planning and Development Act 2007 (s90)).
The ACT Planning Strategy, as required under s105 of the Planning and Development Act (2007), is a policy document that sets out long term planning policy and goals to promote the orderly and sustainable development of the ACT, consistent with the social environmental and economic aspirations of the people. The ACT Planning Strategy informs the future development of Canberra and is the strategic document for managing growth and change in the Territory and for coordinating growth with infrastructure, transport and community facilities. The Planning Strategy may be used to develop or guide the amendment of the Statement of Strategic Directions in the Territory Plan, however it is not part of the Territory Plan and has no application to decisions on development proposals or compliance actions. The Planning Strategy is reviewed on a five yearly basis with the current strategy being released in 2018.
The purpose of the Heritage Act 2004, s3, is to establish a system for the recognition, registration and conservation of places and objects that are Aboriginal or have natural heritage or cultural significance. The Act establishes the Heritage Council; provides for heritage agreements to encourage the conservation of heritage places and objects; establishes enforcement and offence provisions to provide greater protection for heritage places and objects; and provides a system integrated with land planning and development to consider development applications having regard to the heritage significance of places and heritage guidelines.
A comprehensive review of the National Capital Open Space System (NCOSS) was released in February 2014 by the National Capital Authority (NCA) https://www.nca.gov.au/sites/g/files/net791/f/NCOSS_consultation_report.pdf. The NCA identified that the review would determine what role the NCOSS should play and whether the existing delineation of open space is appropriate in terms of efficient land use, meeting national sustainability objectives, and maintaining its role in providing a landscape setting for the National Capital. The review looked at: the existing role and function of the NCOSS; community expectations of the role and function of the NCOSS; statutory frameworks affecting land administration in the NCOSS; and how the NCOSS is incorporated into the National Capital Plan. . The National Capital Plan was updated in 2016 https://www.nca.gov.au/planning-heritage/national-capital-plan.
Development in the Australian Capital Territory is also subject to Commonwealth legislation – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). Under the EPBC Act an action will require approval from the Commonwealth minister if the action has, will have, or is likely to have a ‘significant impact’ on a matter of national environmental significance.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) is the Australian Government's central piece of environmental legislation. The EPBC Act provides a legal framework to protect and manage nationally and internationally important flora, fauna, ecological communities and heritage places—defined in the EPBC Act as matters of national environmental significance. The nine matters of national environmental significance to which the EPBC Act applies are:
In addition, the EPBC Act confers jurisdiction over actions that have a significant impact on the environment where the actions affect, or are taken on, Commonwealth land, or are carried out by a Commonwealth agency (even if that significant impact is not on one of the nine matters of 'national environmental significance').
In Yarralumla the developments that require the assessment of matters of National Environmental Significance are usually those relating to Commonwealth heritage, those on Commonwealth land or that will have an impact on Commonwealth land, nationally threatened species and ecological communities under s18, s26, s27 and s27A of the EPBC Act.