The Territory Plan includes a short Statement of Strategic Directions. The 2018 ACT Planning Strategy is none-statutory, so it does not mean a great deal. The Territory Plan is statutory and carries more weight.
The Statement of Strategic Directions (3 May 2018, Territory Plan, accessed 19 June 2021) has strength, because a development application, which contradicts a strategic directive, could be blocked. The 2018 ACT Planning Strategy, as a none-statutory document, does not carry any weight in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT), where contentious proposals are reviewed. ACAT is a legal authority regulated under the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008.
Master plans and strategy documents are routinely ignored in development applications. Some claim developers can do what they like. While this is not true, the planning authorities would have trouble rejecting an application without concrete reasons. The strategy documents are nice, but far too vague to have any practical value in planning decisions.
Developers have adapted, pushing proposals through loopholes in the planning system. The planning system is played like the tax system – if you can find a loophole, it is ok. The planning authorities are often aware that developments do not correspond with the intent of the planning instruments, and outcomes may be poor for the community. An undesirable outcome cannot be used to justify rejecting a development. The development must contradict a strategy direction of the Territory Plan, or break a rule found in one of the codes. With a little effort, it may be possible to meander the development between the obstacles, tick all the boxes, and get approval. The decision is of a technical or legal nature, and not one of the grand vision or strategic intent. It certainly cannot guarantee quality.
A good example of the problem is the Gungahlin Town Centre. The north-west corner is block coded as commercial. What you see today, however, are high rise apartments – clearly mixed residential and little commercial. Possibly the empty businesses units on the ground level got the project over the hurdle. The ground plan is without any amenities, and remains deserted and barren. The ACT Government now would like to rezone the area to correspond with what it has become – residential. The planning instrument in this case has failed to produce the desired outcome.
The Territory Plan consists of many rules, and rules enable outputs but do not necessarily enforce a good outcome. The outcomes themselves must be stated and enforced – in a statutory way. The first steps have been taken with the National Capital Design Review Panel (NCDRP).
Statement of Strategic Directions
Few of the strategic directions are related to active travel or cycling.
Strategic direction 1.10 states that active travel is to be prioritised, but it does not mention the ACT Transport Strategy priorities, which are in order: pedestrians, cyclists, public transport and finally the personal motor vehicle. The Territory Plan should be specific about the priorities as it affects transport budget decisions. Cycling has been underfunded for decades.
1.10 Integrated land use and transport planning will seek to maximise accessibility and transport efficiency, prioritise active travel, reduce energy consumption, increase physical activity, support the preferred pattern of development, promote safety, safeguard environmental quality, and minimise greenhouse gasStatement of Strategic Directions, Effective: 3 May 2018, Territory Plan, accessed 19 June 2021
Strategic direction 1.24 mandates segregated pedestrian and cycle networks, without saying whether it is segregated from the road or each other (cycling only and pedestrian only paths). Presumably, what is meant here is that the pedestrian and bike paths are grade separated from the road (commonly called off-road cycle paths or community paths). A legible and permeable hierarchy of roads is intended to make it easier for the pedestrian and cyclist to get around.
1.24 All new developments and re-developments will be planned with appropriate and segregated network facilities for pedestrians and cyclists; provision for accessible public transport; a legible and permeable hierarchy of roads; conveniently located commercial and community facilities; and a network of open spaces.Statement of Strategic Directions, Effective: 3 May 2018, Territory Plan, accessed 19 June 2021
Strategic directive 2.7 mandates that routes be reserved for inter-town public transport, but does not go so far as to mandate reservation of cycle corridors. These are the same thing for bicycles, and a requirement to build cycle highways. This requirement should be added to the Territory Plan. Commuter cycling is to be encouraged, but it does not provide a strategy how this is best done: a network of off-road cycle highways between town centres.
2.7 Development will be planned to encourage use of public transport, walking and cycling, including commuter cycling. Routes will be reserved for an enhanced inter-town public transport system. Requirements for vehicle parking will be related to commercial needs and transport policy objectives.Statement of Strategic Directions, Effective: 3 May 2018, Territory Plan, accessed 19 June 2021
Only three strategic directives relate to cycling from 43, which is better than none but still not many.