3 November 2022

Planning balancing act as draft Territory Plan and District Strategies released

| Ian Bushnell
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Mick Gentleman and Ben Ponton

Planning Minister Mick Gentleman and Chief Planner Ben Ponton: a simpler system with better outcomes. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The ACT Government has released drafts of a new Territory Plan and a series of District Planning Strategies for community consultation as part of its Planning System Review and Reform Project.

The proposed planning changes will pave the way for increased density across Canberra, including residential neighbourhoods, while attempting to balance environmental and amenity concerns.

It will mean the already well-advertised shift from a rules-based compliance system to one that is outcomes-based or relying on good design and proponents responding to the individual context of a site.

Underpinning this will be the nine District Strategies capturing their distinct characteristics, the new territory Plan, two design guides and technical specifications.

The Housing Design Guide will encompass such things as amenity, solar access and ventilation, while the Urban Design Guide is for larger developments and includes the public realm.

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The hope is that the new, leaner system will result in higher quality housing and developments by providing more flexibility, reducing assessment delays by improving the quality of development applications, and speeding up the delivery of much-needed housing in the ACT.

At the same time, proponents will face a higher bar regarding the environment, green space and meeting climate change mitigation goals such as tree canopy and permeable space targets. However, the ACT Greens are pushing for stronger requirements to be built into the system.

Planning Minister Mick Gentleman said the proposed simpler system would make for better and more innovative development outcomes.

“It allows people to look at what they want to see on the ground rather than looking at the rules,” he said.

“So DAs, of course, will still need to be approved by the planning authority, but they’ll be looking at what you want to see for the future and not looking at the particular stack of rules that we have at the moment.

“Key stakeholders and the Canberra community have said to us they want something simpler, something easier to read, something easier to understand so they can prepare for the future.”

Row of townhouses.

More density is coming to a suburb near you. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Mr Gentleman said it would also help to build more housing, including community housing.

“I think decisions will be quicker, and of course, we do need to address our housing shortage and this will certainly assist that,” he said.

That includes more medium and high-density development in established suburbs, particularly along transport routes and local centres, and in general residential areas.

Proposed changes in the draft Territory Plan include adding community housing as a use to residential and community facility zones and alterations to dwelling density policies.

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Developers will be able to subdivide blocks in RZ2 to RZ5 zones without having to construct the new dwellings first so ‘vacant’ blocks can be sold in areas close to services and facilities, the number of dwellings permitted in a multi-unit development in the RZ2 zone will be increased, as well removing development restrictions on block amalgamations and the maximum number of dwellings within a building.

But Mr Gentleman said the move to density should not mean the loss of open space and amenity.

“Young Canberrans have said to me they are happy to live in a denser city as long as it has really good urban open spaces,” he said.

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Chief Planner Ben Ponton said the District Strategies would respect areas’ unique elements, but feedback showed many common values across Canberra.

He said planning treatment would vary across the districts, but they would still be subject to common rules.

“There are certain things that you’ll see, for example, a multi-unit development site in Tuggeranong or Gungahlin where the provisions in the Territory Plan will essentially be the same, but then there are other aspects in terms of the town centres where there are particularly unique elements and they’ll be treated differently,” he said.

New developments are also likely to require less parking to encourage active travel and public transport, but if you do have a park, it will come with electric vehicle charging points.

There is also a change to encourage more single-level residences for ageing in place by allowing RZ2 dwellings in multi-unit developments to be apartments.

Plot ratio will no longer be a mandatory requirement but a technical specification and will be set at 50 per cent for multi-unit developments in RZ1 and RZ2 zones.

Asked what developers, who will enjoy fewer restrictions but may face more demanding design requirements, were saying about the proposed new system, Mr Ponton chose his words carefully.

“They’re comfortable with the concept of an outcome-focused planning system,” he said.

But there is obviously more work to do.

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Both Master Builders ACT and the Canberra Liberals criticised the time frame for the consultation, which closes on 14 February and takes in the Christmas-New Year shutdown.

CEO Michael Hopkins said there were 700 pages of Territory Plan, Technical Specifications and District Strategies to work through.

“While the new Territory Plan is an extremely important reform project, the amount of information required to be digested by the ACT community in a very short time period is an immense task,” he said.

“The ACT Government should support community and business stakeholders with whatever means necessary so that the highly technical Plan can be fully understood before it is finalised.”

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Canberra Liberals Planning spokesperson Peter Cain said community organisations and industry had said the release schedule had made it difficult to get the full picture of the future of planning.

“Keeping the community and industry in the dark certainly makes the Labor-Greens Government’s job of introducing huge planning reform easier as they don’t have to address as much informed feedback,” Mr Cain said.

Mr Hopkins said a paradigm shift in planning rules, community attitudes and design and building quality was required if the ACT was going to deliver its share of the 200,000 houses the Federal Government wanted delivered every year.

“Canberra’s love affair with a car-dependant urban footprint dominated by single houses on quarter acre blocks must change if this vision is to be realised,” he said.

Mr Hopkins also said third-party appeals remained a threat to the goals of the planning system review.

“None of these ideals will be delivered as long as anyone can appeal to the ACT Civil & Administrative Tribunal for a few hundred dollars and hold up innovative development proposals for years,” he said.

The government will talk to the community councils, take submissions, and hold workshops and pop-up stalls across the consultation period.

To learn more, visit the YourSay website.

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The problem with “outcomes based” rather than “rules based” is that it takes away the ability for ordinary people to design their own property improvements. That’s because unless you’re in the club (an architect, building designer, professional developer) you won’t know what the unstated rules are. So you’ll waste endless time drawing up plans that are given the thumbs down in an opaque and practically unaccountable process.

Because rules there will be, it’s just that they aren’t written on paper any more. The unspoken rules will be understood by the ‘au fait’, and nobody else.

So buckle up, you’ll have to get a $500/hour architect now, where you used to be able to just jump on the act gov website and read up on what’s required.

Welcome to the creeping professional-managerial takeover of your life, and more gratuitous tick-a-box jobs for government’s industry mates.

HiddenDragon7:20 pm 12 Sep 23

“Key stakeholders and the Canberra community have said to us they want something simpler, something easier to read, something easier to understand so they can prepare for the future.”

If this is simpler, I would hate to see something more complex.

I have tried to wade through the documents which seem to be of relevance to me and they are, frankly, a monstrosity of unnecessary complexity which look like a ham-fisted effort to reflect the many specific demands of the Greens, pay lip service to the sorts of broader principles which this government loves to waffle on about and still allow maximum scope for discretion/caprice by decision makers in the planning bureaucracy.

It would be very useful for the broader public to have access to concise summary documents which, in a page or two (at most), would summarise the essential details of the intended changes so that people can see what it will mean for them, depending on where they live or are planning/hoping to live.

Finally, on the point raised earlier today by bj_ACT, if the heritage zoned areas of the city are to be protected from these changes, they should, nonetheless, have land values and thus annual rates/land tax based on what they would be worth if they were subject to the same planning rules as the rest of RZ1 Canberra.

It would be absolutely unfair to have select pockets of RZ1 protected from the negative impacts of these changes and from the inevitable uplift in assessed land values and rates/land tax which residents in the rest of RZ1 will face at the same time as they deal with the disruptions and other negative impacts which these planning changes will bring.

The biggest and most central blocks of RZ1 land are in Reid, Ainslie, Forrest, Griffith but are also Heritage zoned.

Do we know if secondary RZ1 dwellings will be allowed in heritage areas, or will the rich and wealthy get to live in their pristine, low density, massive blocks with massive nature strips, inner city amenity rich neighbourhoods, whilst the other areas of Canberra carry the population growth burden?

Unsurprisingly, “pristine, low density, massive blocks with massive nature strips, inner city amenity rich neighbourhood” costs more to buy than the opposite. Typically, and those suburbs can often have a higher proportion of wealthy people.

However, most of the RZ1 blocks over 800sqm are actually in Tuggers and Belco.

In terms of population growth burden, the population of Southside is expected to decline and Northside greatly increase particularly the Inner North. The information can be googled, and is also found in the planning docs

I think you’ve misunderstood my post and repeated what I’m saying. Maybe I didn’t make it clear.

But yes the most blocks that meet the new criteria are not in central canberra.

Bj_ACT. I may well have misunderstood your post, apologies if I misrepresented your thoughts. The internet and quick comments aint a perfect communication medium.

I dont profess to understand the interaction between the new RZ1 and heritage zones, but I doubt there will be much intensive infill in Reid. I am less familiar with restrictions and the market in Ainslie, Forrest and Griffith.

My main point is that ACT Govt is projecting that the population “burden” will largely impact the Northside, and specifically the Inner North, whereas most of the RZ1 blocks over 800sqm are in Tuggers and Belco. There are few in Gunghalin and almost none in Molonglo.

In other areas, I have advocated for far more investment in the social infrastructure for Tuggeranong to help attract more population, and the famous “vibrancy” that the infill advocates rabbit on about.

This is far better than building on farmland and destroying woodland to build more and more far out suburbs. For people who object to this, that is the alternative, which is far more damaging. 120 sq metre houses are not that small. My first house was less than 90 sq metres and three of us comfortably lived in it. I bought it from a family of five. The town houses are only going to be two storeys too. Many houses are two storeys.
As long as overshadowing is taken into account. In some cases that would mean only one storey allowed.

Destined to destroy leafy established neighbourhoods with more traffic , noise , rubbish bins and less amenities. Barr’s big Canberra just feeds the growth consumption economics of the neo liberal philosophy- keep growing via migrants requiring housing. This has created limited career opportunities-work in construction the public service or consumer services- Great for developers and investors (landlords) terrible for the rest of the community.

William Newby9:36 pm 21 Nov 22

So the urban Forrest gets the chop.
Backyards carved up for cheap units with insufficient car parking, more cars on streets and more barking dogs. This is going to be terrific!

William Newby, How many cars do you want to park? These are large blocks over 800 sq metres. My first house was on a 450 sq metre block and we easily parked three cars in the back yard. (A nearby car hoarder managed more than that, but most of those would have been impossible to easily drive out.) We could have fitted more too, except that space was used for a good sized vegetable garden and a fruit tree. Room in the front garden for cars too, but that would have been untidy, and the lawn was too nice.

devils_advocate9:54 am 02 Nov 22

To summarise: 1) the punitive fees and charges based on number of dwellings, which are in addition to stamp duty, for redevelopment will continue to disincentivise redevelopment, particularly of entry-level townhouses in affordable areas
2) the planning process and bureaucracy will remain as slow as it has ever been, wrapping developers in red tape for years for merit track applications (and the attendant holding costs)
3) the legislation and planning requirements will become increasingly unrealistic with overlapping setback, height, plot ratio and ground coverage requirements, combined with additional tree canopy requirements and charges, further reducing the viability of infill projects
4) the government will wonder why even fewer infill projects (the so-called “missing middle”) are being brought to market
5) people will continue to wonder why housing supply is not keeping up with demand

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