Planning in Canberra has come a long way since the days of the Burley Griffin plan, the dominance of the
National Capital Development Commission as the supreme planning and development authority and the rise
of self-government in 1989.
The legacy of Canberra's planning forefathers is an orderly, well-spaced, zoned and segmented city form.
Canberra is characterised by plentiful open space, a suburban character, national institutions and a sprawling
low density urban footprint. Coupled with this inheritance, steady population growth, emerging new governance
arrangements and changing priorities are impacting on spatial planning. They present both challenges and
opportunities for Canberra to reshape itself as a sustainable city that is prepared for the economic,
environmental and social challenges ahead.
Governance changes have seen a new Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher take office and a subsequent cabinet
reshuffle. Corporate restructuring, stemming from a review of the ACT Public Service (ACTPS) , has resulted
in significant changes to the ACT governance arrangements.  The restructure was also intended to address
two key areas of concern highlighted in the review. First, that arrangements in relation to land and planning
have, at best, hindered if not actively obstructed and frustrated the achievement of the Government's priorities.
Secondly, that there are clear opportunities, and a significant need, for greater coordination and alignment of
the efforts of the ACTPS in delivering the Government's policy priorities, and supporting its decision making
In tandem with ACT Government changes, there has been continued erosion of budgets for the National
Capital Authority (NCA) - the Australian Government planning authority for areas of national significance in
Canberra. This appears to be providing the ACT Government with increased scope to provide leadership on
planning. The downside is however, reduced funding directed towards the management and development of
Canberra's nationally significant areas that are integral to Canberra's identity as the national capital. The
NCA has recently undergone another review  with the recommendations focused on clarifying the planning
and development activities that overlap with the ACT Government's role.
• Improving uniformity between the two planning systems (ACT and NCA) - such as by aligning, where
possible, land management and detailed planning responsibilities.
• Providing one-off funding to enable the NCA to undertake a comprehensive policy and format review of
the National Capital Plan , to reflect contemporary planning themes and more closely align the
National Capital Plan with the Territory Plan in structure and terminology.
Meanwhile the ACT government has recently released in quick succession the Draft Sustainable Transport
Plan and the Draft Planning Strategy (updating the 2004 Spatial Plan). These policy documents intersect
with current issues that have been a focus for recent planning and development discussions in Canberra
through the Time to Talk 2030 series including:
• population growth and demography;
• management of energy and water;
• housing diversity;
• integrating transport and land use;
• a compact city and quality urban development; and
• Canberra's role in the region.
The ACT's Centres hierarchy of local, group and town centres has historically provided a tight structure for
development that promotes self containment of jobs and opportunities for better transport outcomes.
However over time this hierarchy has been fractured through the ACT Government's limited control over
Commonwealth Government decisions influencing development in Canberra. In particular, the privatisation
and subsequent development of the Canberra airport and the location of Australian Government offices has
raised concern. The increase of commercial floorspace outside the Centres Hierarchy has had an impact
on the ACT Government's investment policies, in particular Gungahlin to the north and the new greenfield
area of Molonglo being developed in the west.
On a positive note, the ACT currently has the second lowest unemployment levels in the country. 
The public sector continues to be the dominant employer, with one in two of the work force being in public
sector employment.  Ongoing concern about new government agencies being located outside of
Canberra  and budget cuts impacting on Canberra, reflects the link between Australian Government
employment and the perceived future growth and prosperity of Canberra.
By 2019, the ACT is expected to have a population of 390,100. In recognition of anticipated steady
population growth and ongoing housing demand, the ACT Government's land release program has identified
a total of 18,500 dwelling sites to be released over the four years from 2011-12 and 2014-15.  The ACT is
Australia's second most expensive city for housing with a median house price of $551,065, but due to
relatively high-average incomes, it also measures as the nation's second most affordable capital city. 
Despite this, the provision of adequate housing supply and affordable housing is still an ongoing issue for
Canberra, particularly in providing housing for low income earners and "key workers".
Integration of transport and land use planning is also becoming more critical as policy documents set
substantial targets. ACT government targets seek to increase the percentage of walking, cycling and
public transport trips to work, from 13 per cent in 2001 to 20 per cent by 2011 and 30 per cent by 2026.
Shifting transport modes is also integral to Canberra achieving its ambitious greenhouse gas reduction
targets, which seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% of 1990 levels by 2020 and to be a
carbon neutral city by 2060.
A sub-text to these issues is the ACT's geographical location, nestled within New South Wales, and
surrounded by regional councils governed by the NSW planning system and with different aims and
objectives to the ACT. Recent cross-border issues include managing water supply and water quality
issues , major residential development adjacent to, or on the ACT borders and sharing of services
between the jurisdictions.
The immediate positive growth outlook for the ACT can mask imminent challenges, including matching
strategic policy objectives with day to day decision making, responding to climate change risks including
unpredictable rainfall patterns accompanied by rising water costs and the increased costs of open space
There are also many opportunities to capitalise on the "maturing" of Canberra as it approaches its 100th
birthday. Older central suburbs are increasingly gentrifying and densifying, presenting challenges for
continued communication and consultation with the community, as well as opportunities for
Canberra residents to experience urban lifestyles characterised by easy access to good restaurants,
shops, community facilities and employment. New land releases such as those in Molonglo and northern
Gunghalin provide an opportunity to demonstrate best practice in greenfields development, with recognition
that broadening the ACT's economic base will become more critical to reducing dependence on land sales
and Commonwealth employment for the region's future prosperity.
Footnotes and references
1. Hawke, A. for ACT Chief Minister's Department, February 2011. Governing the City State, ACT
2. The review's key recommendation was that all existing Administrative Units be abolished and the ACT
Public Service (ACTPS) be reconfigured as a single entity, reporting to a single Chief Executive who is
Head of the ACTPS. The resulting new ACT Government directorates are chief minister and cabinet,
community services, education and training, environment and sustainable development, health, justice
and community safety, economic development, territory and municipal services and treasury.
3. Hawke, A. ‘Canberra a Capital Place: Report of the Independent Review of the National Capital Authority',
Australian Government, Canberra. Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean has yet to provide a formal
response to the Review's recommendations.
4. Since the National Capital Plan's gazettal, in December 1990 there has not been a full review of the Plan.
As the Review highlights, the basic directive under PALM Act to keep the Plan under constant review has
been, and continues to be, unachievable due to current and recent resourcing.
5. ABS Figures show the ACT's unemployment rate at 4% was the second lowest in the country behind the
Northern Territory, at 3.7%.
6. Includes ACT Government and Australian Government employment.
7. Hall, B. 13 July 2011 The Canberra Times ‘Fears PS jobs to leave town'
8. Department of Land and Property Services, May 2011. ACT Indicative Land Release Programs 2011-2012
to 2014-2015, ACT Government, Canberra.
9. AMP/NATSEM, July 2011. The Great Australian Dream - Just a Dream? Issue 29, University of Canberra.
10. Relating to the use of Googong for Canberra's water supply, and pollution originating from NSW entering
ACT water bodies.