The tension between environmental protection and urban development is a fundamental challenge for the ACT Government. Nonetheless, as is illustrated in Chapter 7: Biodiversity, there is clear evidence of the ACT’s commitment to environmental protection. Approximately 57% of the Territory’s total 235 813 ha is contained in areas permanently designated as either nature reserve or national park. This is more than 10% higher than any other Australian jurisdiction, and significantly higher than the national average of 17.88%.
The ACT Government manages land use and land-use impacts in the ACT in a variety of ways, which are assessed in detail in Chapter 10. Particular features of land management and responses from the reporting period are included in this section.
5.4.1 Legal and policy framework
Land ownership or custodianship governs who manages land in the ACT and how it is managed, including the activities that are allowed to take place on the land.
The Planning and Development Act 2007 provides the following definition:21
A custodian for an area of land is an administrative unit or other entity with administrative responsibility for land in the ACT that is unleased land, public land or both. (Note: Entity includes an unincorporated body and a person (including a person occupying a position).)
Two organisations are responsible for land-use planning and management in the ACT: the ACT Planning and Land Authority and the National Capital Authority (NCA). Land owned by the ACT Government is managed by directorates across Government. According to the Territory Plan, ‘Territory Land means Territory Land under the Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Act 1988 (Cwlth)’, which states that ‘if land in the ACT is not National Land it is Territory Land’.22
Although the ACT Government owns the majority of land in the Territory, some land is owned by the Australian Government under the management of a number of departments, including the NCA, the Department of Defence and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Lake Burley Griffin and the entryway into Canberra are two examples of land that is under the planning jurisdiction of the NCA.
Lake Burley Griffin and surrounding land are an example of National Land in the ACT Photo: ACT Government
Planning and Development Act 2007
Land use in the ACT is determined through the Planning and Development Act and the Territory Plan 2008 created under it. The object of the Planning and Development Act is to:21
… provide a planning and land system that contributes to the orderly and sustainable development of the ACT consistent with the social, environmental and economic aspirations of the people of the ACT; and in accordance with sound financial principles.
The Planning and Development Act23 defines sustainable development as:
the effective integration of social, economic and environmental considerations in decision-making processes, achievable through implementation of the following principles:
- the precautionary principle
- the intergenerational equity principle
- conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity
- appropriate valuation and pricing of environmental resources.
The Land Development Agency was established under the Planning and Development Act. The agency’s functions relating to land use include developing land, carrying out works for the development or improvement of land, and carrying out strategic or complex urban development projects.
Strategic Environmental Assessments
The Planning Act provides for the use of Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs). These assessments are designed to cover major land-use policy initiatives or major plan variations.
SEAs are aimed at major government initiatives (such as major urban land-release programs) that have potential implications that:
- cut across a number of planning policy issues, including social, built environment, heritage, cultural, biological and ecological issues
- require the analysis of synergistic and cumulative impact issues.
In this case, the SEA may set an overall assessment framework with several parts, such as an action plan under the Nature Conservation Act 2014. The SEA framework could be used to inform an instrument such as the action plan.
ACT Planning Strategy (2012)
The ACT Planning Strategy (2012)24 is also established under the Planning and Development Act. The strategy was released early in the reporting period and replaced the Canberra Spatial Plan.
The strategy addresses the challenges confronting the ACT in the face of the city’s continuing growth, while maintaining important environmental values. The strategy aims to do this through directing the development of Canberra to help achieve economic, cultural and environmental goals. Within the broader strategy are several strategies and actions to achieve these aims. This includes strategy number eight, which is to:24
Value the land and natural resources of the region by working collaboratively to manage urban growth, ensure connectivity and continuity in the natural systems and conserve, where appropriate, agriculturally productive land. (p 58)
Although the strategy does not have statutory effect, it will serve to guide future planning and development in the ACT, and it is important that managing Canberra’s growth to maintain connectivity and other environmental values is recognised.
While all of the outcomes and actions within the strategy relate to land use, some more than others are specifically related to types of land use and land condition. These include:
- increasing urban infrastructure and providing urban parks (or urban green space)
- improving Canberra’s resilience to change and environmental sustainability through design measures, such as plans for urban areas that include the creation of wildlife and vegetation links to improve ecosystem services
- valuing our land and natural resources by managing urban growth
- ensuring the connectivity and continuity of natural systems.
The strategy notes that detailed consideration of habitat connectivity opportunities is needed in the design and management of urban areas. It recognises the need to provide movement corridors for fauna species through preserving or creating these spaces as a part of urban developments.17
The strategy also recognises the need to use land more efficiently and reduce the amount of land used per capita. Methods to achieve this include increasing infill development and incorporating multiple uses into existing urban areas. Specifically, the strategy aims to deliver at least 50% of new housing requirements through urban intensification.17
Other plans and policies
The Territory Plan directs planning and development in the ACT by, for example:
- setting out how land is used and what can be built on it
- guiding the development of future urban areas and the management of public land.
Land in the ACT is divided into sections and blocks. Each of these blocks is zoned, and it is the zoning that determines what the land may be used for and how it may be developed.25
The National Capital Plan is the Australian Government’s strategic plan for Canberra and the ACT. This plan aims to ensure that ‘Canberra and the Territory are planned and developed in accordance with their national significance’.26
5.4.2 Management of pressures
Rural Land Management Agreements
Rural lessees are required to sign a rural Land Management Agreement (LMA) with the ACT Government regarding the management of the land they are leasing. An LMA provides a basis for a cooperative land management regime between lessees of land in the ACT and the ACT Government agencies responsible for managing rural and nonurban land for the Territory.
Land management agreements are in place over rural land in the ACT. The photo shows rural land to the east of Canberra looking to Mt Tennent Photo: Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment
An LMA is required under s. 283 of the Planning and Development Act for all rural leases. A rural lease is only granted if the lessee has entered into an LMA with the ACT, and this agreement must be signed by the Conservator of Flora and Fauna and the person leasing the land.27 There are currently 110 rural leases in the ACT.
An LMA has three principal components:
- a statement of responsibilities, which outlines the agreed responsibilities of the lessee and the ACT, and identifies the minimum and desirable management standards to be achieved during the term of the LMA
- a site assessment, which is intended to document the current state of the lease, and to recognise appropriate management and resolution of past management issues; it is primarily an environmental audit of the property to be completed by the lessee and is to be conducted at least every five years
- a land action plan, which accompanies each site assessment and outlines the management strategies by lessees to resolve particular land management problems on the subject site. It may include a commitment by the ACT to initiate works in relation to the subject site or adjacent land.
Although LMAs provide a mechanism for planning and tracking land use and management on leased rural land, the agreements are not regularly monitored for compliance or enforcement purposes, or based on the type of rural land use and areas of environmental concern.
The ACT Nature Conservation Strategy was released by the Environment and Planning Directorate (EPD) in 2013. It includes a number of strategies and actions designed to improve nature conservation in the ACT. These actions include the development of an ACT Soils Strategy and other actions to improve knowledge of landscape function across the ACT.
A Soils Strategy will provide a strategic approach for developing baseline soil data and an ongoing soil condition monitoring program. As part of the strategy’s development, the EPD has engaged the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage to develop a hydrogeological landscape (HGL) framework for the ACT and region (see Case study 5.2). The HGL framework will assist in determining the capability of rural, urban and conserved lands for a range of land uses and management objectives. Mapping will help identify key problems in each HGL and management area, and the options available to address them within land-use capability. Soil landscape mapping and development of an HGL framework will provide baseline information on soil properties and constraints, and indicate where soil condition monitoring and amelioration of degradation would be most beneficial.
Other actions under the ACT Nature Conservation Strategy aim to improve knowledge of landscape functions, including mapping of native vegetation and vegetation connectivity, and mapping of serious environmental weeds across the ACT. Along with the soils mapping and the HGL, this work will allow better understanding of appropriate land uses and inform land-use planning.
a Note that, where the chief issue at hand is the potential impact on a particular ecological community, an action plan may be the more appropriate vehicle for assessment and consultation.