Big changes on way to fix Canberra’s ‘broken’ planning system

Ian Bushnell 10 December 2021 28
Planning Minister Mick Gentleman

Minister for Planning and Land Management Mick Gentleman: “The community needs to quickly see what’s being built near them and to have their say on these developments.” Photo: File.

Development applications will remain on the planning website for five years and decisions will be published under proposed changes to the planning system announced today by Minister for Planning and Land Management Mick Gentleman.

The changes are part of a suite of proposals in draft legislation to make the system simpler, more flexible and outcomes-focused, and less of a box-ticking process.

The review comes after constant complaints about the rules-based planning system, which even Chief Planner Ben Ponton conceded was broken.

Mr Gentleman today released a project update on the reforms underway to improve ACT planning, but which are not likely to be implemented until 2023.


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Proposed changes in the new Planning Bill, which will be released for community and industry engagement in early 2022, also introduce the category of ‘significant development’ where developments are likely to require greater consideration of design and environmental impacts and new processes for ‘Territory Priority Projects’.

Also proposed are a simplification of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process, removing EIS exemptions, and introducing pre-decision advice on development applications.

The object of the Act would also be expanded to be inclusive of wellbeing, ecological sustainability and liveability principles, and recognising the knowledge, traditions and culture of the Ngunnawal people as the traditional custodians of the land.

There would also be more efficient and transparent development assessment pathways and decisions.

The update highlights the ACT Government’s work over the past year, including community and industry consultation by district, the drafting of new legislation, and ongoing technical planning.

It also signals some of the work continuing into next year.

The Planning Bill will be the project’s first key reform rolled out for community consultation.


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Mr Gentleman said that draft district strategies would also be released for further consultation in mid-2022 after consultation on the Planning Bill has closed.

“We anticipate that people will be most interested in what’s happening in their district,” he said.

“Earlier this year, we heard from Canberrans across the territory, from Gungahlin to Tuggeranong, about what they loved most about their district. This input is being considered – along with feedback given over many years of planning and development application processes – in our district strategy development.

“We want designers and developers to think about how each project fits in with the characteristics of the district and adds to a local area, how it is environmentally sustainable, and how it functions for the people that will use it.”


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Mr Gentleman said the government was also considering how people interact with the planning system and how improvements to IT systems and detailed guidance material can support the implementation of changes in 2023.

“It’s important to make interacting with the planning system as easy as possible. The community needs to quickly see what’s being built near them and to have their say on these developments,” he said.

“I want to hear from as many Canberrans as possible as we shape the future of our city’s landscape. I encourage everyone to sign up for updates on the project’s YourSay page and to continue to provide feedback on this important reform project across 2022.”

Further information about the ACT Planning System Review and Reform Project can be found on the ACT Planning website.

Engagement opportunities and information about the consultation, including the District Panning Report, can be found on the ACT Government’s YourSay website.


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28 Responses to Big changes on way to fix Canberra’s ‘broken’ planning system
Roberto Taglienti Roberto Taglienti 2:39 pm 11 Dec 21

I didn’t read anything positive in that article.

Kimberley Lloyd Kimberley Lloyd 1:26 am 11 Dec 21

Does this include rezoning residentials to be higher density. I have seen where half the street gets re-zoned blocks where you can jam three houses where there was once one ruining the rest of the street for everyone else because of the increased density causing problems like Dangerous parking reducing the street to a single lane at a time.

shannos shannos 12:10 am 11 Dec 21

The “Broken system”needs to be more than name changes and a reshuffle ie:-Developer driven planning replaced by planning for developers. This is a strong chain that requires .a few links removed- Colliers, Developers,, Planners the Department Head and Minister.

Brian Kilgannon Brian Kilgannon 11:34 pm 10 Dec 21

Why does this not surprise me. Canberra is the worst "run" city in Australia. Total incompetence.

Phil Andrews Phil Andrews 9:23 pm 10 Dec 21

Remove the call in powers of the Minister, ensure the changes compel the Govt to follow its own agreed plans, undertake genuine consultation, employ suitably qualified planners, introduce probity training for ACTPLA & replace the Minister

concerned ratepayer concerned ratepayer 8:53 pm 10 Dec 21

Simpler, more flexible and outcomes-focused may well result in even more rapid box-ticking. When existing rules weren’t followed, the cost in millions to ratepayers of the Fyshwick waste fiasco delivered a white elephant rail freight waste terminal, a questionable direct sale of government land reduced by $ 249,000 for relocation of a watermain which now won’t happen, the introduction of a waste truck business on busy Ipswich St with no traffic lights, no legal appeal to ACAT in industrial and transport zones giving full speed ahead for the waste moguls. The Territory Plan 2008, the Planning and Development Act 2007 and “engagement” of the public were treated with disdain by planners and developers alike. At what cost in compensation from the public purse we will never hear of. How was it possible that the planners could even contemplate we would be OK with, in the first instance, an incinerator in Fyshwick to burn 300,000 tonnes per annum of waste to include plastics and putrescible organic waste. How was it possible they could get it so wrong that 1.3million tonnes per annum of waste from Mugga and even from Sydney would be a good outcome to truck in and out of Fyshwick? How did it happen that the toxic fragmentising of end of life vehicles and other metals was not seen as a major waste activity but was ticked off for Fyshwick immediately following the re-election of the Labor government? As both the Minister and his chief planner are well aware, complaints were always about the rules not being followed. It’s only in an election year that the pollies ever listen. Minister Gentleman, something went really wrong under your watch and I have NO confidence that you and your chief planner could be trusted to get it right or even understand.

Julia Leckey Julia Leckey 8:07 pm 10 Dec 21

Is this not the same minister who rushed through the approval for the upgrade to the Canberra Hospital design in Woden? So even if the rules did change he can still ignore them anyway. The 'community consultation' he speaks of is mock consultation that means the ACT Govt can say it took place (box ticked) but in reality no changes occur. Canberra Hospital case in point. Location of new emergency services block and helipad is a classic example of that. Why would you build and eight storey building with a helipad at the same height as existing residences, then deny it will have any noise or visual impacts instead of putting it on the side by the road (Yamba Drive) that has no residential impacts and is closer to its current location? I assume the same people that train the 'planners' are also the people who train the utterly astonishing 'traffic management' staff.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:53 pm 10 Dec 21

“Big changes” – seriously?

This sort of oh so familiar bureaucratese –

“…to make the system simpler, more flexible and outcomes-focused, and less of a box-ticking process”

looks like a recipe for more of the same revenue/profit driven development of Canberra, but with some re-jigged window dressing in the form of process and a few more seats on the gravy train of people who have to be paid handsomely to advise on applications.

When the inevitable next review happens around the middle of this decade, the pendulum will swing back in the other direction – rinse and repeat, as the saying goes.

Heavs Heavs 7:24 pm 10 Dec 21

Blatant bait to lure Costigan back.

BM BM 7:02 pm 10 Dec 21

How about employing some staff with planning qualifications? EPSDD’s staff seem to be architects, landscape architects, civil engineers… anyone but planners.
Unfortunately, the ACT Government is all about motherhood statements, quotas and smoke and mirrors.
If it just properly resourced priority areas things would be much better.

Anthony Briscoe Anthony Briscoe 5:59 pm 10 Dec 21

Change the Minister would be a great start

54-11 54-11 4:50 pm 10 Dec 21

tim_c, what this city desperately needs is prior occupancy rules. If there is an occupier already there, then they have precedence over whoever comes next.

Live music in Civic died because of new residents who complained of the noise, even though they knew what existed there.

One prime example of planning failures is lifestyle blocks, where people move into the country, and then complain about all the agricultural smells and sounds.

Kyla Bilow Hunt Kyla Bilow Hunt 4:15 pm 10 Dec 21

Having had the misfortune of dealing with the absolute tossers that work there, this can’t come quick enough.

Charlie Karmenu Flask Charlie Karmenu Flask 4:06 pm 10 Dec 21

Still a cardboard cutout!

Nick Swain Nick Swain 4:03 pm 10 Dec 21

Two questions:
1. What do people think about the relationship between planning decision makers and develorers?
2. Is the planning ‘system’ too complex for political oversight by MLA’s?

Linda Seaniger Linda Seaniger 3:52 pm 10 Dec 21

If you’re gonna fix the planning system first of all we’ve gotta have decent town planning. Getting rid of the all existing staff might help. Because consultation may happen, but they don’t listen or act on our concerns. In Molonglo areas we are forced to put up with cranes, concrete booms & double bogey trucks working around our home all the time it’s unsafe, extremely noise and affects our quiet environment, because sitesthat we’re designated for townhouses are suddenly giant units block And they’re not even attractive they just ugly square boxes. So the nations capital should look like the nations capital let’s have more emphasis on design and planning and also maintenance. We need to give more thought to 20 century infrastructure and long-term attractiveness of our city. Trams are obsolete already and more costly than rapid buses which are more flexible and energy-efficient. Spend the money on a better hospital system and better infrastructure.

Paul Mathews Paul Mathews 3:03 pm 10 Dec 21

easy...get rid of BARKING DOGS, eh Chris

Tim Cole Tim Cole 1:09 pm 10 Dec 21

Does that involve sacking the Minister?

Aiden Ellero Aiden Ellero 12:19 pm 10 Dec 21

Chris, Vlasta, Alexander, Hug, Rosy, Brett - this seems very positive! 🏠🏘

bj_ACT bj_ACT 12:05 pm 10 Dec 21

It’s interesting that Chief planner Ben Ponton and Minister Mick Gentleman concede the current planning system is broken when they’ve totally denied this when I’ve put it to them in the past.

What next? ACT Government will concede the 2019 bus changes were a failure and that the Stamp Duty transition to rates needs further tweaking.

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