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Local government plays an important role in land use planning and development approvals systems in all State jurisdictions in Australia. Councils develop strategic plans for the future development of their municipalities, coordinate and provide physical and community infrastructure, use their strategic plans to guide the application of land use and development zones through a planning instrument and administer the planning instrument on a day to day basis.

Constitutionally, planning is a state responsibility and as such there is no single national planning and development system. Instead there exists a composite of state and territory systems and thus the ‘experience’ of the planning system by national developers or developers operating in more than one state varies from state to state.[1]

As the ‘primary gateway’ for those wishing to develop land, including the vast majority of occasional one-off builders or developers, local government provides an essential service to the community. The downside is that councils are held responsible for the performance of all parts of the system, some of which are not in their control, such as the responsiveness and requirements of referral agencies. It is the development assessment component of the planning systems that is the most confrontational and subject to greatest scrutiny and criticism, even though the vast majority of development applications across Australia are increasingly approved efficiently and effectively by councils.

The role of State or Territory Government is to establish a planning framework through legislation and monitor its operation. All systems have common elements such as State, regional and local policies, planning instruments to regulate the use and development of land and process similarities such as notification, referral to agencies and judicial review mechanisms. Significant complexity is added by a range of other legislation and Government agencies that interact with planning systems.

The Federal Government has traditionally played no formal role in land use and development planning. However, this has changed over the past few years as policy makers identify planning as a means of achieving an ambitious agenda including housing affordability and economic stimulus. A Major Cities Unit has been established in the Department of Infrastructure and Transport to provide advice on major infrastructure priorities nationally.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has oversight of a national planning agenda comprising projects involving:

  • Planning assessment performance Benchmarking;
  • Capital City strategic planning
  • Affordable housing

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