Urban encroachment – will Canberra’s wild west stay wild?
The proposal by the Federal Government to relinquish planning control over presently undeveloped land to the west of Canberra has sparked strong debate. The land – on both sides of the Molonglo and Murrumbidgee River corridors, and in Namadgi National Park and the western Tuggeranong Valley – is presently locked away from development because of National Capital Authority (“NCA”) controls. If these were to be removed or loosened, then there is every prospect that the local ACT Government will move to revise its own controls to permit suburban development.
Proponents of this urban expansion, including the ACT’s Liberal Senator Zed Seselja, are pushing for the expansion of Tuggeranong into west Tuggeranong. They claim that pushing development west of the Murrumbidgee River will help to revitalise the ailing Tuggeranong Town Centre. Opponents say that urban encroachment in these areas will have a detrimental effect on the environment and ecosystems, and will detract from the unique landscape that has caused Canberra to be known and promoted as the “bush capital”.
In this Property Reporter, Moulis Legal senior lawyer Lisa Eldridge gives her practical insights on the legalities of these changes, and on the battles that might lie ahead.
Why is the land controlled by the Feds anyway, and how?
Currently, the areas that are the subject of the current speculation – which we will refer to as the western nature reserves – can only be used for a number of agricultural uses, for educational uses and for recreation and tourism. They cannot be used for residential purposes, except where a dwelling is required for the operation of any of the permitted uses. Nor can they be used for any other commercial development. The Feds control the western nature reserves to maintain the aesthetic qualities and conservation objectives of the western nature reserves. This is achieved by the NCA specifying how the western nature reserves can be used.
So what role does the ACT have?
The Territory Plan also sets out requirements for the use of the western nature reserves, but it does so underneath the overriding NCA controls. The ACT is responsible for considering any development applications lodged for land within the western nature reserves, and must ensure that the development applications comply with both the Territory Plan and the NCA controls. The NCA frequently provides comments on development applications that encroach into its areas of responsibility as well.
What is changing?
Currently, the NCA controls set out a number of “special requirements” that must be met for any development within the western nature reserves. This is in addition to the NCA’s principles and policies for the use and development of the western nature reserves. The proposal is to remove the “special requirements” from the NCA controls. Thereafter, future developments in the western nature reserves will only need to be in line with the NCA’s broader principles and policies.
The change proposed for the intended “West Belconnen” area is to vary the zoning of the land west of the suburbs of Holt and Macgregor to allow for largely urban residential development, with areas for units and/or townhouses, community facilities, and commercial uses.
When will the changes happen?
A draft variation to the Territory Plan and a draft amendment to the National Capital Plan have now been released for the proposed “West Belconnen” area. Comments and objections can be submitted about these proposals until close of business on 6 July 2015.
The National Capital Plan Draft Exposure has also now been released. Comments and objections can be submitted about the draft exposure until 4:30pm on 22 July 2015.
What can you do?
- Have your say! Whether you agree or disagree with the various changes, the ACT and the NCA are seeking your input on the proposed changes.
- Monitor proposals for change. Any urban development of the western nature reserves, in addition to “West Belconnen”, will require further variation of the Territory Plan. That variation will need to be publicised and opportunity given for public comment or objection.
- Speak to your an ACT Government member. Any variation to the Territory Plan must be put before the ACT Legislative Assembly and survive any rejection notice issued by a member of the assembly.
Moulis Legal has assisted clients in making representations in response to development applications, draft master plans and proposals to vary the Territory Plan. We are experienced in lodging development applications and in challenging decisions made by the Environment and Planning Directorate, including challenges to lease variation charge decisions.
This memo presents an overview and commentary of the subject matter. It is not provided in the context of a solicitor-client relationship and no duty of care is assumed or accepted. It does not constitute legal advice.
For more information, please contact Lisa Eldridge on +61 2 6163 1000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Sydney Morning Herald, “Zed Seselja fights the good fight for Tuggeranong”, 5 June 2014. (link no longer available)