Commonwealth planning responsibility

The Commonwealth’s planning responsibility relates to Canberra as the National Capital. It is established through the NCP, which describes the broad pattern of land uses that can be adopted in the development of the ACT. This ensures that Canberra broadly retains the characteristics with which it was originally planned. The NCP is managed by the NCA, pursuant to the Planning and Land Management Act.

At the time of writing, the NCA was undertaking its first review of the NCP since its inception in 1990. Amendments to the planning arrangements between the Australian and ACT governments were forecast with an intent to achieve certain outcomes including a revision and update of the NCP, changes to planning arrangements to provide a greater flexibility to the ACT government to meet the challenge of a growing city, removing special requirements in order to reduce duplication and making minor adjustments to the designated areas.

National Capital Plan

The object of the NCP is to ensure that Canberra and the territory are planned and developed in accordance with their national significance (Planning and Land Management Act, s 9). In essence, the NCP is a blueprint for the future development of Canberra. It provides a framework of land uses within which the TP sits, as well as managing those aspects of Canberra and the territory that are special to the national capital role.

The key matters of national significance include:
  • pre-eminence of the role of Canberra and the territory as the national capital
  • preservation and enhancement of the landscape features that give the national capital its character and setting
  • respect for the key elements of Walter Burley Griffins formally adopted plan for Canberra
  • creation, preservation and enhancement of fitting sites, approaches and backdrops for national institutions and ceremonies as well as national capital uses
  • development of a city which respects both environmental values and reflects national concerns with the sustainability of Australia’s urban areas.
More specifically, as stated in the second reading of the Planning and Land Management Bill ‘the purpose of the National Capital Plan is to ensure that the Commonwealth’s national capital interests in the Territory are fully protected, without otherwise involving the Commonwealth in matters that should be the prerogative of the Canberra community’.

The ‘national interest’ in the capital is reflected throughout the territory and is essential to the development of the ACT as the garden city and bush capital, and the symbolic centre of Australia.

Role of the National Capital Authority

The NCA is established under section 5 of the Planning and Land Management Act. Its functions include preparing and administering the NCP, reviewing the NCP and proposing amendments where necessary, recommending development where desirable to maintain or enhance the character of the National Capital and the fostering an awareness of Canberra as the national capital (s 6). While the NCA is responsible for developing and reviewing the NCP, any amendments to the plan must be approved by the Commonwealth minister responsible for territories and are disallowable by the Commonwealth Parliament (Division 2 of Part III of the Planning and Land Management Act).

The NCA is also responsible for the detailed planning and development controls in what are called ‘designated areas’ (s 10). Designated areas are those areas of the ACT that have been identified as having the special characteristics of the National Capital, comprising of:
  • Canberra’s system of inner hills and ridges which form the landscape setting of the city, for example, Mt Ainslie, Black Mountain and Red Hill
  • the main avenues and approach routes to the city, for example: Northbourne Avenue, Adelaide Avenue, State Circle, Kings Avenue, Canberra Avenue, and the Barton, Federal and Monaro Highways
  • the Central National Area, including the Parliamentary Zone and adjoining urban areas
  • the diplomatic areas
  • Lake Burley Griffin its foreshores and adjoining urban areas
  • the main national institutions and symbols of Commonwealth governance.

Main features of the NCP

The NCP sets out planning principles and policies for the maintenance and enhancement of the character of the national capital, plus standards and aesthetic principles to be adhered to in the development of Canberra and the territory. It also contains detailed conditions of planning, design and development for designated areas because of their particular importance to the special character of the national capital. The NCP is set out with an introduction, two main parts and a set of appendices. Maps are included as figures when relevant, for example maps depicting the location of designated areas.


The introduction explains the development of a planning system for Canberra and the establishment of the NCP and the NCA. It also explains the concept of national significance as well as outlining the different elements of the plan.

Part 1: Principles, policies and standards, designated areas and special requirements

Part 1 establishes broad principles and policies that set out permitted uses for different land use categories. These categories include:
  • urban areas
  • broadacre areas
  • hills, ridges and buffer spaces
  • river corridors
  • mountains and bushlands
  • rural areas.
For each category the NCP sets out planning policies, including a range of permitted uses. The land use policies contained in the TP are then chosen from this range of permitted uses.

Part 1 details general policies covering national and arterial roads, location of Commonwealth employment, heritage issues and other relevant matters of broad policy; it identifies areas which have the special characteristics of the National Capital, being the designated areas, and sets out detailed conditions for their planning, design and development. Part 1 also identifies 'special requirements' for development of areas in the interests of the National Capital that are not ‘designated areas’. These areas are subject to special requirements additional to the requirements of the TP. These areas include parts of Civic, land fronting the main avenues and approach routes to the National Capital, Tidbinbilla Deep Space Complex, Telopea and Haig Parks, Namadgi National Park, river corridors and National Land sites.

Part 2: Administration and implementation

Part 2 details provisions for administration and implementation of the NCP, including the relationship to the TP and the development and management of national land.



There are sixteen appendices relating to a variety of issues including Lake Burley Griffin Technical and Management Guidelines (Appendix J), Civic Centre Townscape Conditions (Appendix L) and Federal Highway Detailed Conditions of Planning, Design and Development (Appendix X).

Amending the NCP

The NCA is required to keep the NCP under review and to prepare amendments where necessary (s 6). In doing so, the NCA must consult ACTPLA, and make the draft amendment available for public comment (see below for more detail). When this consultation is finalised, the NCA may either revise the draft amendment or simply submit the amendment, and a report on the consultation, to the minister for approval. The minister, in turn, can either decide to approve the draft amendment, or refer it back to the NCA for further consultation or specific amendment (s 19). Once the minister approves the draft amendment, notice of this approval must be advertised in the Commonwealth Gazette, and it is also advertised on the NCA’s website. The amendment takes effect upon publication of this notice of approval. The amendment is then laid before each House of the Commonwealth Parliament for six sitting days, within which time either House can disallow it in whole or in part (s 22).

The minister may refer draft amendments to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories for inquiry and report (see below for more detail).

Under section 16 of the Planning and Land Management Act, the minister may certify a draft amendment for six months, pending consideration of the draft amendment. Re-certification for one or more periods of six months is also possible. Certification simply gives temporary effect to a draft amendment, that is, the draft amendment is considered to apply for the period of certification, whilst the consultation processes described above occur.

It is worth noting that the Planning and Land Management Act makes specific provision for a deadlock between the NCA and the ACTPLA concerning draft amendments (s 20A). The minister, in consultation with the executive, can direct the NCA either to disregard ACTPLA’s objections, or to vary the amendment, in whole or in part, to accommodate the objection. Such a direction must be notified in the Commonwealth Gazette and laid before both Houses of Federal Parliament within six days. To date, no such action has been required.

Public participation in the NCP amendment process

The NCA is required to consult the public on draft amendments, and must advertise this consultation in the Commonwealth Gazette and the Canberra Times (s 15). It also appears on the NCA website. Draft amendments are available for public inspection at a place specified in the notice, as well as on the NCA website. The Planning and Land Management Act only requires that the NCA provide a ‘reasonable period’ for public comment (s 15(1)(b)(ii)).

Many people provide written comments in order to object to a draft amendment. In most cases, it is useful to provide such comments within the context of the objectives of the NCP and the importance of national significance. Once the NCA has received comments, it is required to consider them, and also to provide a report on the consultation to the minister for consideration during the approval process (ss 15(2), 18).

People may also have an opportunity to comment on a draft amendment if it is referred to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories for inquiry and report. This often involves a call for submissions and may involve an opportunity to give evidence before the committee.

This site is powered by FoswikiCopyright © by the contributing authors. All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
Ideas, requests, problems regarding AustLII Communities? Send feedback
This website is using cookies. More info. That's Fine