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PLANNING & ENVIRONMENT LAW
OBTAINING DEVELOPMENT APPROVAL
Approval for planning and development is governed by the Planning and Development Act 2007 (‘the Act’). Development Act 2007 (‘the Act’). The Act contains the Territory Plan (‘the Plan’) which provides the policy guidelines for planning in the ACT. The Plan sets out the general directions in which planning in the ACT is intended to follow and also contains a statement of strategic objectives, as well as development plans and codes for each area.
Under the Act, development proposals will either be:
  • exempt;
  • prohibited; or
  • assessable.
Exempt development
Development approval may not be required for small projects like sheds, carports and pergolas. Exemptions for these types of projects will also depend on the nature of the residence (i.e. single dwelling in a new housing estate). Even where developments are subject to an exemption, building approval may still be required.
Prohibited development
You cannot apply for approval of a development if that development is prohibited by the guidelines in the Territory Plan. If, however, a development receives approval and then the development guidelines change, the development will still be valid.
Assessable
Depending on the type of project being undertaken and the location in which it is being undertaken, an assessment will be made through one of three tracks: code, merit or impact.
Code track
Under the code track, an applicant lodges a proposal with the ACT Planning and Land Authority (ACTPLA). The ACTPLA assesses the application against the code track criteria and provides a decision within 20 working days. There is no obligation to publicly notify a code track development application.
Merit track
A merit track application includes developments such as an apartment in a commercial zone, development in a residential zone or a multi-unit residential building in a residential zone. A merit track application requires public notification. The application is assessed against the relevant code of the Territory Plan, submissions from relevant entities (may include statutory bodies or government departments), sustainability of the land, environmental impact, and any representations or objections made by the public. If no representations are made, a decision on a Merit Track application will be made in 30 days. If representations are made, a decision will be made within 45 days.
Impact track
Impact Track assessments are the most comprehensive of the three. Impact Track applications will often involve projects like the construction of a major road, dam or rail line. Major public notification is required for an impact track application: letters will be sent to adjoining neighbours and a notice will be placed in The Canberra Times. The application is assessed against the relevant code of the Territory Plan, sustainability of the land, submissions of relevant entities, environmental impact, and any representations or objections made by the public. The proposal may also need to be accompanied by an Environmental Impact Statement, the results of which may be subject to inquiry. If no representations are made, a decision on a Merit Track application will be made in 30 days. If representations are made, a decision will be made within 45 days.
Developments assessed under the Merit Track or Impact Track that are refused or approved subject to a condition may be taken to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT). An application for reconsideration must be made within 20 days of the ACTPLA having delivered their original decision and must set out the grounds on which the reconsideration is sought.