Organisation overview

The Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate (the Directorate) integrates ACT planning with the Government’s environment protection functions, including a strong commitment to address climate change and enhance land and water managment. It was established to:
  • plan for Canberra’s future growth to a fully sustainable city and economy
  • enable a dedicated and clear focus on meeting the challenges of climate change
  • enact the ACT Government’s vision to become the solar capital of Australia.

The Directorate plays a critical role in delivering the ACT Government (the Government) commitment to a sustainable future by developing and overseeing a range of nation-leading policies and programs to address climate change, stimulate the growth of the green economy, encourage innovation and investment in renewable energy, and protect and conserve our environment and water resources.

The Directorate’s planning responsibilities aim to ensure economic, environmental and social sustainability. Responsibilities include broad spatial planning for the ACT and more specific greenfield and broadacre, city and transport planning. In administering the Territory Plan, the Directorate manages, varies and ends leases on Territory land and manages the development assessment process.

The functions of the Directorate are complemented by the regulatory capacity provided through the statutory functions of relevant legislation. Regulation responsibilities lie with ACT Heritage, the Conservator for Flora and Fauna, the Environment Protection Authority and the planning and land authority and include occupational licensing for the construction industry and compliance and enforcement action across land, building and environmental management activities. The Directorate also has responsibility for the technical regulation of the electricity, natural gas, water and sewerage industry.

The Directorate supports the ACT’s Conservator of Flora and Fauna, Flora and Fauna Committee, Heritage Council, Climate Change Council, Natural Resource Management Council, Government Architect, Place Names Committee and Land Requests Advisory Committee.

The Directorate was renamed the Environment and Planning Directorate (EPD) on 4 July 2014 following the Chief Minister’s announcement of new administrative arrangements to allow for a sixth minister to join the Cabinet.

ESDD staff standing at Dame Pattie Menzeis House sporting moustaches in support of Movember
Staff from across the Directorate participate in Movember

Clients and stakeholders

The Directorate’s primary obligation is to serve the ACT Government of the day through the responsible Minister. It does this by providing advice and in giving effect to decisions of the Government.

As the Directorate’s work can have an impact on the daily lives of residents, sectors of the community take a keen – and often passionate – interest in its work and activities. The Directorate seeks to foster stakeholder input through widespread engagement with the community and relevant industry groups.

Clients and stakeholders include:
  • ACT Legislative Assembly
  • ACT residents
  • the development and building industry
  • community-based planning, heritage, natural resource management and environment groups
  • ACT, Australian and other state and territory government agencies and councils, including the National Capital Authority (NCA)
  • communities and local governments surrounding the ACT
  • ministerial and other councils at the local and national level
  • statutory and non-statutory committees
  • academic institutions
  • Actew Water, ActewAGL, the electricity and gas industry
  • suppliers and contractors
  • the ACT and its environment.


The Directorate embraces the ACT Public Service Code of Conduct and Values and Signature Behaviours, which include the overriding values of respect, integrity, collaboration and innovation. The Directorate also places strong emphasis on the values contained in its Corporate Plan 2012–14:
  • Collaboration and leadership
  • Innovation, inspiration and influence
  • Respect, recognise and respond
  • Professionalism and integrity.

These values are supported by a series of actions that give practical expression to the values and ensure they genuinely reflect the model for the way the Directorate and staff operate.


The Executive, through the Director-General, commissioned a strategic review of the Directorate during the year with the objective of identifying ways in which the Directorate could enhance its overall efficiency and effectiveness in meeting the Government’s sustainability policies and targets. The review identified a range of options to achieve these objectives and, following consultations with staff and other stakeholders, structural changes were made in key areas of the Directorate to better align policy and operational activities. At the same time, savings were made by a reduction in the number of senior executives, particularly relating to the delivery of corporate services. This created a more streamlined executive structure and enabled the creation of a division which brings together the Territory’s environment protection, nature conservation, catchment management and water policy and operational teams. See Section C for more detail.

Diagram 1: The Directorate’s structure as at 30 June 2014.

Planning framework

The Corporate Plan 2012–14 translates the Directorate’s diverse responsibilities into strategic priorities and actions. The plan is guided by the ACT Government’s Performance and Accountability Framework and seeks to integrate the Government’s strategic planning, as articulated in the Canberra Plan – Towards our Second Century and the Chief Minister’s annual ACT Government Priorities, into achievable and measurable outcomes.

The full plan is available on the Directorate’s website. The strategic priorities are:
  • Lead the community towards making Canberra a zero net carbon emitter
  • Promote sustainable, secure and equitable energy supply
  • Secure sustainable water resources
  • Protect our environment and promote contemporary, best practice environmental standards
  • Deliver spatial planning, urban design and building outcomes that contribute to a sustainable Canberra
  • Achieve and maintain effective regulatory systems
  • Provide effective community engagement and customer service
  • Value our people and strong governance.
  • Diagrams 2 and 3 show the planning framework and direction-setting mechanisms in use within the Directorate. Diagram 2 outlines the processes undertaken by the Directorate as a public sector organisation in receipt of Government funding. It reflects the Directorate’s obligation to regularly report on outcomes, activities and expenses in delivering services. Diagram 3 illustrates the central role of the Planning and Development Act 2007 (P&D Act) and the Ministerial Statement of Planning Intent in the Directorate’s role in delivering planning and development outcomes.

Diagram 2: Planning and reporting framework
Diagram 2: Planning and reporting framework

Diagram 3: Components of the planning and development system (in relation to activities undertaken under formal planning legislation)

Summary of performance

While the full spectrum of Directorate activities and performance can be seen in Section B of this report, the summary below includes significant highlights and indicates the range of activities undertaken during the year.


Three Construction and Energy Efficiency Legislation Amendment Acts (Construction Acts) and two Planning, Building and Environment Legislation Amendment Acts passed in 2013–14. Other passed Acts included the Public Unleased Land Act 2013, Statute Law Amendment Act 2014, Statute Law Amendment Act 2013 (No. 2), Planning and Development (Symonston Mental Health Facility) Amendment Act 2014, Planning and Development (Extension of Time) Amendment Act 2014 and Water Resources Amendment Act 2013. The Gas Safety Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 was introduced into the Legislative Assembly in June 2014.

Reaching emissions targets

Climate change is one of the biggest issues facing the world today. Addressing the challenges posed by climate change requires action by everyone in our community – government, business, community groups, households and individuals. The Directorate is addressing the challenge at a local scale through its implementation of actions from the ACT’s climate change strategy and action plan.

Much of the Territory’s ambitious emissions target will be met through the requirement for the ACT to have 90% of its electricity supply sourced from renewable energy by 2020, which was legislated in November 2013. To contribute to this, two solar projects were awarded feed-in tariff entitlements during the year to produce a total of 20 megawatts (MW). This builds on an earlier 20 MW feed-in tariff entitlement for solar. The first wind auction was announced with entitlements to total up to 200 MW. The Minister also announced an energy-from-waste facility would be built.

As the ACT Government contributes 5% of the Territory’s emissions, the Government has set a target of zero net emissions in Government operations by 2020. This will be achieved through the Carbon Neutral Government Framework, which has 39 actions across ACT Government directorates.
Two applications to the Carbon Neutral Government Fund for energy saving projects to a value of $988,000 were approved and commenced during the year. An Enterprise Sustainability Platform for collecting data and reporting on energy and water use across the ACT Government was put in place.

Other initiatives to lower emissions included the release of a discussion paper on actions the Territory could take to lower vehicle emissions. The Energy Efficiency Improvement Scheme (EEIS) saw electricity retailers successfully implementing energy saving activities in over 18,000 households. The scheme was expanded to business. The ACTSmart programs continued to work with householders, businesses, event organisers and government agencies to improve their use of energy, water and waste.

A review of the ban on lightweight plastic shopping bags found a high ongoing level of consumer support for and retailer compliance with the ban.

At the same time as mitigating climate change through greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions, the Government and the public must work together to develop resilience to the unavoidable changes in climate that are already occurring and are expected to become more acute. The Directorate is preparing the ACT Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, which will help identify priorities for adaptation and coordinate work to build resilience. The Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development made a Ministerial Statement outlining how the ACT built environment and urban open spaces will be developed to respond to climate change.

Managing and enhancing our water resources

The ACT Government was successful in its bid to the Commonwealth for funding of up to $85 million under the Basin State Priority Project. The ACT’s Basin Priority Project will improve water quality in the ACT’s catchments and, in turn, improve the health of the southern Murray–Darling Basin.

Other water projects integral to the ACT Basin Priority Project were largely completed including the ACT Water Strategy 2014–44: Striking the Balance, the review of Water Sensitive Urban Design, and the consideration of a range of possible catchment governance models.

Activities to substitute high quality drinking water used for irrigation with fit-for-purpose stormwater continued, with water being captured in urban ponds and the first neighbourhood scale stormwater harvesting system in the ACT nearing completion. Investigations were progressed for wetland sites in Tuggeranong, Weston Creek and Ginninderra catchments.

Looking after our environment

The Conservation Planning and Research (CPR) Unit released its 2011–13 Program Report that documents its extensive work to ensure protection of our environment, particularly our threatened species and communities, through research, restoration activities and conservation planning.

Action plans were released for the ongoing protection of the Glossy Black Cockatoo, Little Eagle
and Murrumbidgee Bossiaea. Annual surveys for threatened species found increased numbers of
Grassland Earless Dragons.

Monitoring of two Engineered Log Jams constructed at Tharwa in 2013 to improve fish habitat showed increased water depth between the log jams, as anticipated, and that they have become a hotspot for juvenile cod.

The Nature Conservation Strategy 2013–23 was tabled in the ACT Legislative Assembly in August 2013. Implementation activities during the year included: development of baseline information on landscape function; planning and restoration activities for enhancing connectivity; development of a weed alert application; and protection of species and ecological communities through planning, monitoring and restoration activities.

Aerial shot of the Engineered Log Jams near Tharwa
Engineered Log Jams near Tharwa are improving fish habitat.

Natural resource management

As part of its work on biodiversity and climate change, the Directorate developed baseline information on soils across the ACT and partnered with Greening Australia and Territory and Municipal Services to improve the condition, extent and connectivity of over 1500 hectares of lowland woodland areas across the ACT and adjacent NSW.

The Australian Government funded a project to improve the ACT region’s capacity to identify climate change mitigation and adaptation opportunities and risks and inform strategic natural resource management investments in a changing climate.

Through its work with the community, the Directorate delivered on-ground sustainable agriculture and environment outcomes and provided technical support and facilitation services. The Aboriginal Natural Resource Management Facilitator helped build awareness and capacity in Indigenous stakeholders and others in the ACT. The 2013–14 ACT Environment Grants provided $166,412 for 14 ‘on-ground’ projects across the ACT.

Planning our city

The Directorate continued to implement the ACT Planning Strategy and deliver other plans. The City Plan, completed under an Australian Government ‘Liveable Cities’ grant, provides a framework for the development of the city centre to 2030 and beyond. A master plan was completed for Pialligo Rural Village and draft master plans were prepared and consulted on for Oaks Estate and Weston Creek.

Planning for the Molonglo Valley continued with the preparation of a concept plan and associated directions paper for the Molonglo Valley stage 2 main commercial centre and environs. Investigations to inform future planning for Molonglo Valley stage 3 commenced and a planning review of the north Coombs and Wright precinct was completed.

Planning for the East Lake urban renewal area progressed to near completion. Planning for Kenny has been reviewed and updated in response to the outcomes of the Gungahlin Strategic Assessment.

A number of original urban research papers were completed on urban consolidation within Canberra, demography, employment, commercial office supply, and industrial land.

Transport and infrastructure

Work focused mainly on implementation of the Transport for Canberra 2012 policy and Capital Metro, and included the development of a draft Light Rail Master Plan to identify a potential future Canberra light rail network beyond Capital Metro stage 1 (Gungahlin to City).

Completed transport studies included the Adelaide Avenue (Woden to City) Bus Stop Feasibility Study, the City Bus Layover and Interchange Feasibility Study, the Walkability Mapping Study, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Transport Service Study and the City Plan Infrastructure Study.

A discussion paper to inform the Low Emission Vehicle Strategy was released for community consultation. Ongoing studies included the Community Transport Study, Transport Pricing Strategy,
ACT Strategic Cycle Network Plan, and Park and Ride and Bike and Ride feasibility studies including further investigation of a Park and Ride on Athllon Drive at Wanniassa.


The Heritage Council made 28 decisions on provisional registration and two on full registration.
The assessment of the backlog of nominations to the ACT Heritage Register continued.

ACT Heritage installed 16 new Canberra Tracks signs, taking the total to 156, and created a Canberra Tracks website to support the popular brochure available at tourism outlets. A joint partnership with the University of Canberra saw 265 education students using Canberra Tracks sites to develop a Canberra Tracks ‘augmented reality App’ for mobile devices.

The annual Canberra and Region Heritage Festival included over 110 events, activities and exhibitions and involved over 60 groups and individuals from the government, community and private sectors.

The 2013–14 ACT Heritage Grants Program funded 17 projects totalling $329,634.

Planning delivery

Key impact and estate development proposals approved during the year included the Royalla 20 MW Solar Farm, Molonglo Sewer, Theodore to Gilmore Transmission Line upgrade, and Molonglo S2 East West Arterial Road Stage 1 – John Gorton Drive to Intersection 1.

Environmental impact statement (EIS) assessment reports were completed for the Mugga Lane
Resource Management Centre Expansion, Craven’s Creek Water Quality Control Pond and Lawson South 132 kilovolt (kV) Power Line Relocation. Exemptions from the requirement to prepare an EIS were granted for the Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC) Low Cost Tourist Accommodation, Cabin and Camping Development at Block 799 Gungahlin, the Gungahlin Strategic Assessment Area and the Molonglo Valley Stage 2 Urban Development, Infrastructure and Link Bridge.

Approved estate development plans (EDP) provided for the release of 224 single dwelling blocks, five multi-unit blocks providing for the release of 244 dwellings and two significant EDPs for the Woden town centre – the Woden Bus Interchange EDP and Woden Section 9.

The Directorate assessed 1079 merit track development applications (DA), managed 562 exemption declaration applications, approved two community title and 103 unit title applications, approved 103 lease variations, checked 970 leases, managed 45 deeds of management and issued 1200 consequential leases.

Eight Territory Plan variations were approved and commenced, including Variation 306 – Residential, Estate Development and Leasing Codes and variations to give effect to master plans for Kingston and Kambah group centres and Tuggeranong town centre. Draft Special Variation S323 for the Symonston Mental Health Facility was released for public comment. Thirty-one technical amendments were made to the Territory Plan.

Regulation and services

All development and building applications were lodged online using eDevelopment. Customer services received 1113 DAs, 4718 building approvals and 3835 Energy Efficiency Rating submissions and issued 3787 certificates of occupancy and use. The Directorate booked 18,495 electrical and 14,505 plumbing inspections, approved 7975 plumbing plans, processed 8594 lease conveyancing requests, undertook 5413 building conveyancing enquiries and conducted 2714 building file searches.

The Directorate investigates all formal complaints under land and construction laws; it completed 854 investigations and received 603 new complaints, 298 of which related to planning laws and 305 related to construction laws. At the end of the financial year, the Directorate was managing 45 complex cases, including 26 matters being litigated. Two prosecution briefs were prepared, with one matter proceeding to court. Two notices to terminate Crown leases were issued. Various licensing actions were taken against construction occupation licensees. Sixteen stop work notices and 10 show cause notices were issued, two controlled activity orders were made, 14 intention to issue rectification notices were issued and six rectification orders were made.

In 2013–14, the Directorate made 878 decisions relating to extension of time provisions under the
P&D Act 2007.

As part of the regulation of the water utility, the Directorate completed the endorsement process in relation to the design and construction of the Enlarged Cotter Dam and reviewed the safety emergency plans for all three dams servicing the ACT.

The Construction Occupations Registrar issued 1727 new construction occupations licences and renewed 4274 licences. The electrical inspectorate undertook 6230 inspections of new electrical work and 2180 inspections of photovoltaic (PV) arrays.

More than 9567 inspections of alterations and additions to existing electrical installations were also undertaken on a random basis. During 2013–14 the plumbing and gasfitting inspectorate inspected 4750 new plumbing installations, 3112 new gas installations and made 94 Type B gas validations.


A new ACTSmart Home Energy Advice service was launched in April 2014 to offer ACT residents independent advice, information and resources to reduce household energy use.

The Outreach program assisted approximately 1177 low income households with education, energy efficient appliances and retrofits to lower energy use and costs.

The ACTSmart Business Energy and Water program assessed 109 small businesses, with 46 claiming a rebate to upgrade to more efficient fittings or fixtures. The ACTSmart Government Energy and Water Program assessed 32 sites across eight directorates, with subsequent reports recommending efficiency upgrades to reduce costs and carbon emissions.

To date, 686 sites are participating in the ACTSmart Business and Office programs, whichprovide assistance and accreditation to encourage and support the adoption of efficient waste management and recycling. The 207 accredited ACTSmart sites diverted a total of 21,197 cubic metres of waste (equivalent to 67,075 domestic recycling bins) from landfill, representing a reduction in GHG emissions of 3066 tCO2-e (equivalent to taking 807 cars off the road for a year). These sites also recycled approximately 16,098 cubic metres of mixed recyclables, representing 1,298 tCO2-e avoided (equivalent to taking 342 cars off the road for a year) and 1,746 cubic metres of organic material equivalent to
958 tCO2-e avoided (equivalent to taking 252 cars off the road for a year).

All ACT schools, covering over 70,500 students, have registered with the ACTSmart Schools initiative. Chapman Primary School, Duffy Primary School and Gilmore Primary School became the first schools to receive ACTSmart Schools Five Star Accreditation. The focus of the 2013–14 program was waste, with waste and recycling systems established in 33 schools.

Volunteer community network, Waterwatch, continued to support the more than 160 volunteers monitoring more than 200 water quality sites across the region. Their data is used by a wide range of organisations such as local councils, state and territory government agencies, private consultants, schools and non-government organisations. Waterwatch has launched a new database with the Atlas of Living Australia that hosts all its data from across the region in one place.

A photo of an ACTSmart energy-saving workshop with the community in progress
ACTSmart facilitates energy-saving workshops with the community


The organisation remains focussed on assisting Canberra to manage growth and change in a more sustainable manner into the future.

Canberra has a well-educated community that largely understands the challenges of climate change and the need to use resources wisely. Our relative affluence does, however, often mean we consume large amounts of resources per capita. This includes resources in terms of transport, land, housing, energy and consumables. We also produce considerable waste.

The Directorate will continue to work in partnership with the community and business to progressively develop a more compact and sustainable city, well supported by a variety of housing, transport, job and recreation options. Concurrently, areas of environmental and heritage significance will be protected and the construction sector will be regulated to ensure national standards are met.

The Directorate will continue to implement the ACT’s climate change strategy, which will drive the ACT towards the Government’s policy objective of zero net emissions by 2060 and pursuing carbon neutrality in the Government’s operations and service delivery by 2020. This will be complemented by the continued implementation of the Energy Efficiency (Cost of Living) Improvement Scheme and Carbon Neutral ACT. This includes pursuing the Government’s renewable energy targets with the implementation of the Royalla Solar Farm and lending support to the One Sun and Elementus
solar projects currently undertaking their development assessment and planning processes.
Further investments in renewables will focus on wind farms and future innovation.

The Capital Metro light rail project is a significant initiative for the ACT and the Directorate will continue to provide support in its planning and, ultimately, development phases. Allied to this work, the Directorate is progressing planning for the further light rail network and will be undertaking studies associated with the redevelopment of the major transport corridor from Gungahlin to the City.

In 2014–15, the Directorate will develop transport and parking options to support growth and prosperity in our town centres. This will involve the formulation of options such as parking offsets to enable greater flexibility for how and where parking is provided.

The Directorate will continue its work on a review of the Building Act with the release of a discussion paper in the second half of 2014. This will be a fundamental review of the Territory’s legislation with the aim of having a regulatory framework to better address the growing evidence of poor building practices across the city. The Government will also introduce utilities legislation to create a contemporary framework to address emerging renewable energy sources and secondary water supplies.

The Government’s commitment to digital service delivery sees the continued involvement of the Directorate in the delivery of such initiatives as an updated eDevelopment platform, the DA Finder App and a range of on line services that will better meet the needs of clients.

The Directorate will assist in establishing a Catchment Management and Governance Framework, which will strengthen the management of the ACT’s waterways. A complementary element to this work is the administration of the Commonwealth’s $85 million contribution through the ACT Basin Priority Project.
The Directorate will also work to implement the ACT’s water strategy, which sets out how the ACT Government will manage the territory’s water resources over the next 30 years.

In 2014–15, the Directorate will complete the reviews of a number of significant pieces of legislation. The reviews of the Nature Conservation, Environment Protection and Heritage Acts will strengthen the protection of the ACT’s valuable heritage and environmental assets.

A number of master plans are expected to be finalised including Oaks Estate, Weston group centre and Woden and Mawson town centres. These plans will guide how these areas can develop while maintaining important elements of local character. The Directorate will also commence work on the implementation of the City Plan. This important work will support managing growth and change in the city centre to ensure it becomes an increasingly vibrant and interesting place to live and work.

Biodiversity within the ACT will be supported through the one-stop-shop reforms and offset policy. The Directorate will also develop fertility control options for the management of the ACT’s kangaroo populations in order to achieve a sustainable balance within the Territory’s delicate ecosystem. This work will be assisted by the continued conservation research and monitoring undertaken by the Directorate.