Half-baked District Strategies and Territory Plan fail to deliver the planning leadership Canberra needs.
Today the ACT Government released the draft Territory Plan and draft District Strategies as the next stage in the Planning System Review and Reform Project.
We welcome the positive changes in these documents - in particular, the draft Territory Plan improves the RZ2 Suburban Core zone (approximately 11% of residential land) by legalising apartments, increasing maximum density, and making quality of life changes to make building housing in these areas easier. The new District Strategies acknowledge the need for a large increase in public and social housing, and it will be easier to build social housing in residential zones.
But on the whole, the draft Territory Plan and District Strategies fail to meet the needs of our growing city. Between 2011-2021, Canberra’s population grew by 100,000 people and averaged a yearly growth rate of 2.44%, greatly exceeding previous projections. The Government has disregarded this and continued to assume a long-predicted crash in Canberra’s population growth. Under the current territory plan figures, even if population growth were to remain at a conservative 2%, this territory plan underestimates Canberra’s future population by 20,000 to 30,000 people in the next 14 years.
The draft District Strategies only plan for 100,000 new homes through to 2063. For this to service the ACT, population growth would need to fall to ~1% per annum, 40% of what it is currently.1 It is a plan for an acute housing shortage. It is a plan for extremely high rents and house prices, and widespread displacement out of Canberra as a result. It is a plan for poverty, exclusion, economic stagnation and gentrification.
Further to this, the dwelling estimates in the draft Territory Plan and District Strategies plan make a mockery of the Government’s commitment in the last budget to deliver 30,000 new homes over the next five years, with only 57,800 dwellings planned over the next 13.
The draft Territory Plan and District Strategies identify multiple areas for ‘future investigation’ but provide no details on what this will involve or timeframes for these studies. Canberrans are thus left in the dark about how their districts will change and whether there will be any concrete action to address our affordability crisis.
The draft Territory Plan rearranges, renames, and reconceptualises every element of the planning system, while making hardly any actual substantive changes. The Planning System Review and Reform Project has been billed as a landmark restructuring of our planning system, but it seems it will deliver hardly any actual reform. The District Strategies are mostly a plan to do more planning, with any actual substantive planning changes off in the distant future.
The hard problems facing planning - the densification of our suburbs, the role of third-party planning appeals - remain unanswered, put off to another day. If not during a complete rewrite of our planning system, when are these problems meant to be addressed?
To meet the challenges of our rapidly growing city, the climate crisis, and to create a compact and efficient city, major reform is required. The Territory Plan simply doesn’t allow enough homes to be built to reach the 200,000 homes needed over the next thirty years, and more than tinkering at the edges and sporadic brownfield residential development is needed. These major reforms cannot be put off, and the new Territory Plan can and should address them.
When faced with its housing crisis, Auckland did not spend years making a plan committing to further planning. It implemented actual, substantive zoning reform through its 2016 Unitary Plan, and then pursued further actual substantive zoning reform in 2021 nationally. Together, these policies have doubled the rate of new approvals and slowed the rapid growth in rents. Canberra needs more than plans to do further planning.
The Government should amend the draft Territory Plan to legalise dual occupancies and other missing middle housing typologies in RZ1. It should go further in RZ2, and examine upzoning all of RZ2 to RZ3. These two reforms are achievable in 2023.
Ultimately, the draft Territory Plan and District Strategies plan for failure. They appear unfinished and contain far too few details on parts that should be clear. The Government needs to get serious about planning for the Canberra of the future - one that could see a million citizens by 2065. The piecemeal, business-as-usual approach proposed by this Territory Plan is beyond inadequate to deliver a well-planned, livable, sustainable and above all affordable Canberra.
About Greater Canberra
Greater Canberra is a community advocacy group committed to affordable and high-quality housing in Canberra. We believe in a future where housing is abundant, and where everyone can enjoy a more sustainable and liveable city. For more information, see https://greatercanberra.org.
Based on calculation assuming occupancy rates of 2.2 people per home and constant population growth rates ↩