A4 - Outlook

Major priorities

In the coming year, ESDD’s significant priorities reflect both ongoing statutory obligations and explicitly funded policy initiatives.

The implementation of the ACT Planning Strategy that proposes changes to planning policy, including focusing on urban infill development, with growth focused around commercial centres and integrated with transport initiatives. The Strategy promotes development of infrastructure that provides choices in how Canberrans live, travel and where they work.

The government’s transport policy, Transport for Canberra, which integrates transport and land use planning to manage city growth, outlines government actions on public transport, parking, vehicle movement and active travel (walking and cycling).

ESDD will continue with active implementation of AP2, which aims to transition the ACT towards the ACT Government objective of zero net emissions by 2060 and pursue carbon neutrality in the government’s operations and service delivery.

The Carbon Neutral Government Framework will continue to be implemented, enhancing the ability of the ACT Government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions resulting from its operations and delivery of services, towards the goal of zero government emissions from 2020.

A range of strategic planning initiatives will be delivered. This includes detailed planning, facilitating supported changes to the Territory Plan and engineering investigations as part of the land release program, with a focus on supporting housing affordability and accessible communities. Work on the master plan program will identify where infill development could occur in and around town and group centres as well as along transport corridors and how this development and change can be facilitated.

A continuing priority in 2013–14 will be ESDD’s continuing participation in, and leadership of components of, regional planning initiatives in partnership with the NSW Department of Infrastructure and Planning. The Directorate will continue to participate in national forums on analysis and development of national transport and infrastructure strategies and policies.

ESDD will provide key technical advice and support for the Capital Metro Agency in its crucial work in delivering the first stage of a light rail network in the Territory from Gungahlin to the City.

ESDD will undertake a review of Part 5 of the Utilities Act 2000 to improve regulatory control of licensed utilities in the Territory. Changes to the Territory Plan will be monitored and facilitated to ensure that it properly reflects government policies relating to the management of and planning for future sustainable growth within the ACT. Development proposals including lease variations in accordance with the Territory Plan will be further assessed.

ESDD is conducting a broad policy review of the Building Act 2004 as part of ongoing reforms to improve the quality of construction in the ACT and the operation of building regulation. The review will also address emerging issues for construction regulation such as the regulation of building services and maintenance of the health and safety of a building throughout its lifecycle. Major legislative amendments identified in the review will be introduced from 2014 after public consultation. 

The energy reform agenda at an ACT and national level will continue to be pursued. This will include the implementation of the ACT Sustainable Energy Policy, and continued assistance to industry to implement the Energy Efficiency Scheme.

The Think Water, Act Water strategy and the implementation of policies and programs which reduce the demand for water and, where feasible, increase the use of non-potable water will be further implemented. Similarly, the ACT Waste Management Strategy 2011–2025 will continue to be implemented.

ESDD will continue to develop strategies to protect and conserve threatened species and ecological communities.

The celebration and promotion of, caring for, and conservation of the ACT’s cultural heritage will continue as an important continuing goal, together with the provision of information in relation to local Indigenous heritage.

ESDD will continue to support the Canberra and South East Region Environment Centre, the Conservation Council, SEE Change ACT and community ventures with the ACT Government in regional environmental measures. It will continue to work with the ACT Natural Resource Management Council, community, governments, landholders, industry, the local Indigenous community, and scientific and research organisations to improve our natural environment including through the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country program.

A sustainable urban environment is critical to our city’s prosperity. The ACT Government has provided funding to the Canberra Urban and Regional Futures (CURF) program, an initiative founded by the Australian National University’s Climate Change Institute and the University of Canberra’s Urban and Regional Planning School. CURF will focus on a broad range of planning and sustainability issues, undertaking research to inform ACT Government policy by facilitating collaboration among governments, research business and community organisations across Canberra and the surrounding region.

Likely trends and changes in the operating environment

The Directorate continues to look at opportunities to improve the efficiency of its operations. The two years of experience since its creation as a Directorate following the 2011 wide-ranging reforms to the ACT Public Service, will inform a review designed to identify those aspects of ESDD operations that are working well, and those where opportunities for improvement exist. The review will draw on opportunities for collaboration, synergies and innovation and should be finalised, with agreed outcomes implemented, later in 2013. The review will assist enhanced operations within the tightening fiscal environment

The ACT Government’s key policies as outlined in the Planning Strategy, Transport for Canberra and AP 2will continue to be implemented. The Directorate will also need to ensure that it regulates efficiently and effectively and can respond professionally to government requests for advice. This is particularly important in terms of building confidence within the building and construction industry, should the economy slow from activity levels experienced in previous years, as expected by some commentators.

The Directorate will also need to listen and continue to be responsive to community and industry regarding matters relevant to its responsibilities.

Building on earlier work, the Directorate will continue to work with the National Capital Authority to identify opportunities to reduce overlapping planning responsibilities within the Territory.

Significant risks and issues

The Directorate’s major challenge relates to providing advice to the ACT Government on how best to achieve long-term sustainability for the Territory. Canberra needs to achieve a more compact urban form where increasing numbers of people choose to use convenient public transport, or to walk or cycle to get around. Quality planning and environmental outcomes must be provided without the need for government involvement and intervention at every step. The Directorate has a range of complex and varied responsibilities to assist the government to respond to such a challenge. The complexity and varied nature of that work naturally brings risks but also great opportunities.

The Directorate is responsible for assisting the ACT Government in the development of inter-related policies through to the detailed implementation of those policies. This applies across the complete range of activities described in this report. Unlike its counterparts in other jurisdictions within Australia, the Directorate provides services to government and the community traditionally provided by both ‘state’ and ‘local’ governments. This work includes high level environment, climate change and transport policy through to ‘on the ground’ policy work relating to the planning for new suburbs of Canberra or facilitating orderly change within existing suburbs. At a more ‘local’ level, the Directorate provides development assessment services and regulates the building and construction industry with the latter often being where the implementation of higher level policy interacts with the everyday lives of citizens. The unique role of the Directorate to interact with community and industry on ‘state’ and ‘local’ issues offers both significant challenges, but also major opportunities, to ensure effective policy development. 

The Directorate includes the statutory roles of the Chief Planning Executive, the Environment Protection Authority, the Heritage Council and the Conservator of Flora and Fauna.

The complex and varied nature of ESDD’s work brings with it inherent risks including competing policy priorities. The Directorate will continue to work through those competing priorities in order to provide the most robust and well considered advice possible to the government.

A key focus of the Directorate over the past year has been on improving building quality in the ACT and this focus will continue through the review of the Building Act 2004 in the coming year.

The Directorate will work with its stakeholders to ensure that the objectives of the new Energy Efficiency Improvement Scheme are met. It will also work with the utilities on ensuring that the large scale solar projects are effectively integrated into the network.

Change is something that people react to differently. Typically, most of us are keen to protect the things we like or are familiar with in our neighbourhoods. Proposals that seek to change the status quo, to alter the shape and content of our neighbourhoods, can therefore be challenging. As a result planning may be seen in a negative way, and the driver of outcomes that not all stakeholders are comfortable with. However, the fact remains that planning is a key means by which governments can address significant societal challenges. This is particularly true when effectively integrated with other strategic policy platforms such as transport, infrastructure, climate change and biodiversity conservation.

Social and economic developments affect the Directorate in many minor and major ways. ESDD’s highly specialised work is dependent on the professional expertise of its relatively small staffing complement. This presents a vulnerability to the loss of experienced, specialised staff.

Another key challenge for the Directorate is to translate the message we have received on urban sprawl and the policy positions in the Planning Strategy, Transport for Canberra and AP 2 into delivery on the ground. Government leads by setting the policy framework and making key investments, for example the work on City Plan and City to the Lake, commitments to Capital Metro, and support for large scale renewable energy. But successful implementation requires that the community and industry be brought along on the journey. The commitment by all to good policy, quality building outcomes and diligent use of resources is essential to secure Canberra’s future prosperity. This will form the backdrop for the Directorate’s work in the coming year.