There are two development approval systems operating in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), one managed by the National Capital Authority (NCA), a Commonwealth agency, and the other by the ACT Planning and Land Authority (ACTPLA), a territory authority.

Generally, development approval will be required from ACTPLA unless the land to be developed is within a ‘designated area’ identified in the National Capital Plan (NCP) in which case the NCA must give approval. A ’designated area’ is an area of land that has the special characteristics of the national capital and has been specified as such in the NCP (s 10 of the Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Act 1988 (Cth) (Planning and Land Management Act)). Development within these areas is discussed below (see Chapter 2 of this Handbook for more information about the Commonwealth’s planning responsibility and the NCP).

The Planning and Land Management Act classifies land as ‘national land’ or ‘territory land’. National land is declared by the relevant minister and is land that is, or is intended to be, used by or on behalf of the Commonwealth (s 27). National land is managed by the NCA via the NCP. Territory land refers to all other ACT land (s 28), and is managed by ACTPLA via the Territory Plan (TP). The ACT government obtains land management responsibility for territory land from the Planning and Land Management Act (s 29) and the Australian Capital Territory (Self Government) Act 1988 (Cth) (s 37 and Schedule 4).

ACTPLA administers the Planning and Development Act 2007 (ACT) (the Planning Act), a territory enactment that provides for the preparation and administration of the TP (s 12) and the establishment of ACTPLA (s 10). This is also the principal legislation dealing with planning, development approvals and leasing matters for the territory land under the planning responsibility of ACTPLA.

The Planning Act replaced the Land (Planning and Environment) Act 1991, and instituted a three track development assessment system, differentiated by the nature of the development proposal. The simplest assessment track is the code track, the most commonly used is the merit track and the broadest assessment is applied in the impact track for larger, more complex proposals.

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