ACT urban development: in 8 steps

Good active travel infrastructure in the ACT requires some understanding of urban planning. The ACT Government provides many documents that are very detailed, and often highly technical, so that it is easy to become overwhelmed. A simple explanation of urban planning in Canberra is a good start.

Step 1: population

Predict the population growth to determine the demand for housing.

Latest ACT Population Projections – Treasury, ACT Government

Step 2: spatial planning

Work out where you can put all those people. This involves zoning different parts of the city for different purposes. All that goes into the Territory Plan.

The ACT strategy: Compact and efficient city

The 2012 ACT Planning Strategy sought to create a more compact, efficient and inclusive city that is renowned for its liveability. Since then, major changes have taken place to accommodate the growing city; the first stage of our light rail network is being constructed, urban renewal is transforming parts of our city and we have committed to a carbon neutral future.

ACT Planning Strategy 2018 (ACT Government, 2018)

The two key options to manage urban growth include:

Greenfield development

Subject to a full assessment of environmental, transport, infrastructure and planning issues, the potential further expansion of the city into areas that are next to, or close to existing urban areas, and they must be areas that facilitate the efficient use of existing infrastructure and transport (or infrastructure that could be relatively easily and cost effectively extended).

ACT Planning Strategy 2018 (ACT Government, 2018)

Infill development

Infill development (urban renewal) involves increasing the capacity of our existing urban area to support growth. It requires the strategic identification of areas where development can be focussed, including the following:

Urban intensification areas – the city centre, town and group centres and transit corridors which are areas of high accessibility.

Areas within the existing residential footprint – blocks or sites in appropriate locations with the capacity to accommodate increased housing supply, density and choice; for example, large blocks in accessible locations with the potential for dual occupancy development. This could apply to the RZ1 Residential zone under the Territory Plan.

Areas close to local centres (400 metres /average 5 minute walk) – areas that could be suited to medium density housing typologies. This could apply to the RZ2 Residential zone under the Territory Plan.

ACT Planning Strategy 2018 (ACT Government, 2018)

Step 3: future urban areas

Work out where the greenfield developments are going to be. Here is the example for Molonglo Valley.

The timeline for the Molonglo Valley (figure 1) shows that the planning started in 2004. Planning can be a slow process. The Coombs and Wright Concept Plan is from 2010. 

Molonglo Valley stage 2 planning process

Extracts of the Molonglo Valley stage 2 planning process from an ACT Government document.

Molonglo Valley stage 2 estates are still under construction.

Figure 1: Timeline for planning strategies for development of Molonglo Valley
Figure 2: Planning phases for Molonglo Valley stage 2

Step 4: environment

Further planning and studies. For the Molonglo Valley the environmental considerations have had a significant impact on the estate development. These two documents are important. 

  • Molonglo Valley Plan for the Protection of Matters of National Significance: NES Plan September 2011
  • Molonglo River Reserve: Reserve Management Plan 2019

The Molonglo Valley is a large area and was therefore broken up into stages: Stage 1 consisting of the suburbs of Coombs and Wright, and the region of North Weston, Stage 2 the suburbs of Denman Prospect and Molonglo, and Stage 3 the suburbs north of the Molonglo River.

Step 5: planning and design framework

For each stage write a Planning and Design Framework (PDF). A Planning and Design Framework is a strategic document that describes the development and how it is to achieve, guiding the planning of the later stages. Examples:

  • Molonglo Valley Stage 2 Planning and Design Framework (ACT Government, April 2012)
  • Molonglo Valley Stage 3 Planning and Design Framework (ACT Government, February 2019)

Step 6: project brief

The first phase of detailed estate planning begins. Example: Molonglo 3 East

Molonglo 3 East Planning and Infrastructure Study Project Brief (2 December 2019) describes the scope of work for design tender and was released by the Major Projects Canberra Infrastructure Delivery Partner Group.

The design work is outsourced to a consultancy. The consultancy reports back with options and a design concept. This design concept becomes part of the Territory Plan.

Step 7: staging

A second more detailed design phase is required, and the estate may be broken up into development phases. 

Example: Whitlam

The Whitlam estate development has a staged land release: stage 1 from early 2020, stage 2 from late 2020 – early 2021, stage 3 2022 and stage 4 in 2023.

Whitlam from the east boundary fence, The Pinnacle Offset Area, The Pinnacle, Belconnen
Whitlam from the east boundary fence, The Pinnacle Offset Area, The Pinnacle, Belconnen

Step 8: block release

For each stage, the blocks are sold for private development. The first land release in Whitlam in stage 1 is set for March 2020.

Example: Wright, Molonglo Valley, ACT Suburban Land Agency

Figure 6: Wright, Molonglo Valley sales brochure

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