Questions are being raised about the apparent delay in the release of the finalised Territory Plan and District Strategies, which form key parts of the planning reforms the ACT Government says are vital for the delivery of more housing in the Territory.
At the beginning of June, Planning and Land Development Minister Mick Gentleman said they would be ready soon, but it is now nearly mid-August and the housing sector is wondering when they will be available given the uncertainty in the industry.
The issue was raised at the Master Builders ACT Luncheon on Tuesday (8 August) attended by industry and government figures including the CEO of social housing provider CHC Andrew Hannan and the ACT Coordinator for Housing Stephen Miners.
Plans for infill development, especially dual occupancies, to provide affordable housing within the urban footprint rely on the planning reforms and its so-called flexible and outcomes-based approach.
The ACT Budget established a $60 million Affordable Housing Project Fund, which will provide a greater role for community housing providers and incentives for developers to include affordable rentals in their projects.
Both industry and community groups are sweating on the final form of the Territory Plan and District Strategies to understand what they will be dealing with and to provide certainty for investment.
But when pressed at the MBA event, Mr Miners was only able to say they were close.
Mr Gentleman told Region that Cabinet was currently considering the revised Territory Plan and District Strategies.
He said they would be introduced into the Assembly once this process had been completed.
“The government received more than 3000 pieces of feedback on the draft District Strategies and Territory Plan during public consultation,” he said.
“Over the past few months, the government has been carefully considering the extensive feedback.”
Opposition Spokesperson for Planning and Land Management Peter Cain said the reforms were too important to remain unavailable to the public.
Mr Cain said the minister had previously told the Legislative Assembly on 1 June that these documents were due for release by July 2023.
“June has come and gone. July has come and gone. It is now August, and we still have no indication of when these reforms will be finalised and released to the public,” Mr Cain said.
“It is the community and industry stakeholders who lose out the most because of this uncertainty.”
Mr Cain said time would be needed to analyse and assess the planning reforms to see how they would affect residents, businesses and Canberra’s suburbs.
He said the interim Territory Plan was due to come into effect in September, but there had been no word from the government.
“How is Canberra’s building and construction sector meant to adjust to a new set of rules and regulations when there are only four weeks until it comes into effect, and we haven’t seen it?” Mr Cain said.
“How are Canberra’s residents meant to inform themselves of how their houses, streets and suburbs will be affected by new reforms when they are given no time to process them?”
The Opposition has called the government’s planning agenda anti-community and anti-environment, voting against the Planning Bill in June.
But Chief Minister Andrew Barr has said a vote in the Legislative Assembly against the new Territory Plan would be a vote against new housing in the ACT.
He said in June that labour and construction constraints were a challenge, “but if you can’t even get through the planning system because there isn’t a location to build or a lot of the planning rules don’t allow it, you’re not even going to get started on projects”.
“Ultimately, it’s going to be a decision of the Assembly. When the new Territory Plan is brought forward for a final vote, Assembly members will be voting either for or against more housing in Canberra.”
Industry continues to warn that housing starts are stalled despite demand rising and the need to boost supply to rein in prices and rents.