The introduction of self-government for the ACT in 1988 created a situation where the Commonwealth government and the ACT government share responsibility for the future development of Canberra and the territory. This chapter attempts to explain the two related, yet distinct, planning systems.

All land in the territory belongs to the Commonwealth. However, pursuant to the Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Act 1988 (Cth) (‘Planning and Land Management Act’), land within the territory is divided into two categories:
  • national land which is declared by the Commonwealth minister to be national land under section 27 of the Planning and Land Management Act and is managed by the National Capital Authority (NCA)
  • territory land which is the remainder of the land that has not been declared national land and is managed by the ACT Planning and Land Authority (ACTPLA) (s 28 of the Planning and Land Management Act).
The Commonwealth’s planning responsibility for Canberra as a national capital is established through the National Capital Plan (NCP). The Australian Capital Territory’s planning responsibility for Canberra as a city is established through the Territory Plan (TP). Although the two plans are intended to be complementary, the Planning and Land Management Act makes it clear that the NCP prevails over the TP (s 26).

The Planning and Land Management Act and the NCP provide for ‘designated areas’ which have the special characteristics of the National Capital and for areas outside of the ‘designated areas’ that are important to the National Capital, the latter of which are subject to ‘special requirements’ additional to the requirements of the TP (s 10).

Designated areas and areas subject to special requirements include both national land and territory land. Under this complex and overlapping planning regime the NCA has planning responsibility for designated areas (s 12). The designated areas and any conditions for the planning and development of these areas are set out in the NCP, which is administered by the NCA. Areas (other than designated areas) subject to ‘special requirements’ are also set out in the NCP. The development of these areas must be in compliance with the special requirements specified in the NCP. Developments on territory land may therefore require approval from the NCA or other Australian government agencies. In general, areas with special requirements require the preparation of Development Control Plans which are approved by the NCA to guide development in association with the TP. Both the NCA and ACTPLA have informative websites (see Contacts list at the back of this book).

The system of land tenure in the ACT is leasehold. This differentiates the capital territory from the rest of Australia and is a factor in the planning of Canberra.

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