Planning and development literacy
As a councillor, you have a role and responsibilities under the Queensland planning framework.
Local government has responsibility for various planning powers under the legislation. This is in recognition that many decisions ought to be handled at a level that is closest to the communities they affect.
The Planning Act 2016 establishes a range of obligations for local government relating to plan-making, development assessment and dispute resolution.
On this page
- What is planning?
- Conflicts of interests
- Queensland’s planning framework
- Planning instruments
- Local planning schemes
- Development assessment
- Types of development
- Categories of development applications
- Parties involved in development assessment
- Assessment process
- Helping the community understand the development process
- Dispute resolution
What is planning?
Planning aims to manage how cities, towns and regions grow and change in a way that benefits the public interest. It’s about better outcomes for people, places, the environment and the economy, and therefore deals with livability, sustainability and prosperity.
Planning is becoming increasingly essential to how we deal with some of the issues and opportunities facing Queensland and Australia.
Some examples include the following:
- Accommodating a rapidly growing population as well as the challenge of population decline.
- Making sure we have the right infrastructure and industries in place to support communities, the economy and jobs growth.
- Ensuring our communities become more resilient to natural hazards.
- Protecting the natural environment, green space, natural resources and heritage.
Planning deals with the following:
- how land is used
- protecting our heritage and natural resources
- identifying areas for employment
- articulating the strategic intent for growth and development of a local government area.
Conflicts of interest
When participating in decisions about planning and development matters both councillors and council employees must be aware of legislative frameworks for managing conflicts of interest. This ensures all decision-making is in the public interest and protects against corruption.
For councillors, conflicts of interest are either prescribed (meaning councillors are prohibited from being involved) or declarable (where non-conflicted councillors are empowered under legislation to help manage the participation of their fellow councillors).
Responsibilities of councillors:
- keep registers of interest up to date
- manage conflicts of interest that arise
- consider best-practice advice from the Office of the Independent Assessor to ensure interactions with the development industry are appropriate, transparent and promote integrity and community trust in decision-making
- ensure you do not misuse information to gain an advantage for yourself or someone else.
Responsibilities of planning officers and other council employees:
- comply with the local government principles (PDF, 96KB) regarding ethical behaviour, and with your own council’s policies and procedures for managing your own personal conflicts of interest
- provide technical advice to councillors on planning scheme amendments, particularly whether a planning scheme amendment is deemed to cover the whole of the local government area
- not discuss a planning matter in briefing sessions, informal discussions, workshops, meetings or any other way with a councillor if you are aware they may have a conflict of interest, unless the councillor has been given approval to participate through a formal resolution passed by council
- discourage close or personal relationships with the development industry.
It is not the role of council planning officers to provide advice on whether a councillor has a conflict of interest or how interests should be managed.
Some planning scheme amendments may be exempt from conflict of interest requirements if they are considered ‘ordinary business’, for example:
- if the amendment applied to the whole local government area
- if the councillor has an interest but only because they live in the affected area and their interest is actually the same as the interest of a significant proportion of other community members.
Queensland’s planning framework
The Queensland planning framework is established in the Planning Act 2016. It consists of three main systems:
- development assessment
- dispute resolution.
State and local governments share the responsibility for delivery and operation of these systems.
Three local planning instruments:
- local planning schemes
- local planning policies
- temporary local planning instruments (TLPIs).
Most planning schemes contain a local government infrastructure plan (LGIP), which identifies trunk infrastructure needed to support the local area. Trunk infrastructure is the basic infrastructure needed for a community to function.
There are different aspects of the plan-making system relating to state and local governments, and the community and industry.
- Mandates the role and responsibilities in plan-making.
- Articulates, in the State Planning Policy and in Regional Plans, the state’s interests in plan-making that are to be delivered in a local government planning scheme.
- Establishes the plan making processes through the Minister’s Guidelines and Rules, which includes the minimum requirements for community engagement in plan-making.
- Articulates the mandatory parts of a local government planning scheme.
- Provides for different levels of assessment that a planning scheme may apply to development.
- Approves local government planning schemes and amendments.
- Prepares and amends its own planning scheme in consultation with the local community (this is the primary document that sets out plans for managing growth and change in each local government area across Queensland).
- The planning scheme regulates the use and development of land.
Community and industry:
- Can get involved in and make comments when the Queensland Government is preparing a new, or amending an existing, State planning policy or regional plan.
- Can get involved in and make comments when a local government is preparing a new or amending an existing planning scheme.
State planning instruments
The Planning Act 2016 is the primary legislative framework that provides a range of tools to support different aspects of planning, and it is important you know what they are. It is supported by the Planning Regulation 2017.
State planning instruments
The state planning instruments set out state and regional planning interests for growth management across Queensland.
The State Planning Policy (SPP) expresses the Queensland Government’s interests in a range of land use planning matters (such as areas subject to natural hazards and state heritage places).
Regional plans address issues and identify opportunities that cross local government boundaries for the benefit of the region.
Local government must consider the matters set out in the SPP and regional plans when making their local planning instrument.
The statutory instruments ensure the plan-making and development assessment systems are consistent.
There are three statutory instruments that provide binding instructions ensuring planning and development processes are consistent across Queensland:
- The Minister’s Guidelines and Rules (MGR) outlines the process and timeframes for making or amending local planning instruments.
- The Development Assessment (DA) rules set out the rules for how development applications are assessed in Queensland.
- The State Development Assessment Provisions (SDAP) includes the state’s assessment requirements, used by the state in assessing development applications.
Local planning schemes
For every local council, there needs to be a local planning scheme in place, which sets out the future vision for the local government area in a strategic plan or framework. This is the ‘big picture’ part of the scheme that maps out the intentions for the area in the long term.
It guides what the land can be used for (e.g. apartments, shops, industry) and how land may be developed (e.g. construction of buildings, or subdivision of land).
They set the direction and balance competing objectives. It regulates:
- What and where development should occur (by including parcels of land in zones and what uses are appropriate in which zones).
- How development should occur (by outlining the provisions new development needs to meet).
- What assessment process is required (by stating if a development application is needed and process to be followed).
The planning scheme is the document that the community, the development industry and governments all look to in order to understand the local government’s plan for managing growth and change, including what sort of development they can expect in a local area.
Things to remember
- Planning is focused on the public interest and balancing economic, environmental and community outcomes.
- Most current planning schemes have a similar table of contents.
- They include an ‘about the planning scheme’ section, state planning provisions, the strategic framework, the local government infrastructure plan, tables of assessment, the zones, local plans and overlays, development codes, other plans if there are any, and schedules including definitions and mapping.
- Although PDF maps are included in the scheme, most medium to large local governments have a separate interactive mapping system of their planning scheme maps.
Check your council’s planning scheme
Open your council’s local planning scheme and consider the following:
- Are you familiar with the planning scheme?
- What is the year of the plan?
- Has it had amendments?
Look specifically at the strategic framework. You may wish to familiarise yourself with it, as it sets up your council’s vision for growth and economic development into the future. Remember that planning schemes and development assessment integrate local, regional and state policy.
- Local planning scheme – A legally binding instrument that considers state and regional planning interests, as well as local matters, and is a collaborative effort between local governments and their communities. It outlines planning and development aspirations, as well as infrastructure needs.
- Temporary Local Planning Instruments – To be responsive to changing and emergent planning issues, a local government may prepare a temporary instrument which deals with a specific, often localised issue. Local governments have up to two years to incorporate it into their planning scheme if required.
- Local Government Infrastructure Plan (inside the planning scheme document)– This instrument identifies the trunk infrastructure necessary to service a local area. Trunk infrastructure is the higher order or shared infrastructure needed for a community to function. This instrument can include infrastructure for five local infrastructure networks: water, sewerage, roads, storm water, as well as parks and land for community facilities.
- Planning scheme policies – An instrument which sits outside the planning scheme that informs a planning scheme. For example, the guidelines or advice to follow in undertaking a study and/or preparing a report that may assist is meeting the requirements of the planning scheme (e.g. matters that may require a noise assessment report).
Development assessment system
As a councillor, your role is to make decisions on some development applications. Your decisions should be consistent with the community vision, strategic plan and the planning scheme.
You also have a role in deciding to allocate resources to development assessment and delegating decision-making powers to senior officers where appropriate.
Remember, the development assessment process must be fair, reasonable and transparent. Reasons for the decisions are required to be published.
- Establishes the process for assessing development (by both state and local government), in the Development Assessment Rules.
- Identifies particular development for assessment by the state, through the Planning Regulation 2017.
- The State Assessment and Referral Agency assesses state aspects of development proposals against the provisions in the State Development Assessment Provisions.
- Regulates, through its planning scheme, what land uses and development proposals need to obtain an approval from the local government and the level of assessment that applies.
- Assesses development that it made assessable in its planning scheme.
- Considers submissions and comments on development applications and issues a decision (to approve or refuse) each application.
As a councillor, your role is to make decisions on some development applications. Your decisions should be consistent with the community vision and strategic plan, and the planning scheme.
You also have a role in deciding to allocate resources to development assessment and delegating decision-making power to senior offers where appropriate.
Community and industry:
- Applicants use the planning scheme to identify what type of development is envisaged in which area, and process and criteria that will apply to their development proposal.
- Development applications are made against the local planning scheme or may be assessable by the state against the State Development Assessment Provisions.
- People may make comments on some types of development proposals.
Types of development
Development is undertaken by families, developers, businesses, and governments. It can range from large new suburbs to shopping centres to renovations on a house. Under the Planning Act 2016, development includes the following:
Material change of use (MCU)
A new use of a building, structure or land, or intensifying an existing use.
Reconfiguration of a lot
Subdividing land and other actions such as rearranging boundaries.
Making changes to the land itself (e.g. earthworks, vegetation clearing).
Actions such as building or extending a house, garage, building or structure.
Categories of development applications
Not all development requires a development approval. The local planning scheme determines the majority of cases for whether development requires an approval or not. In these instances, the local government is responsible for making a decision about whether or not to approve the development.
Through legislation, the state government provides that certain development is prohibited, and certain development can proceed without the need for development approval. In these instances, a local government planning scheme cannot change this requirement.
In some cases, the state will become the assessment manager or will have a formal say in applications which are being managed by local government.
There are three basic categories of development:
- This is development that does not need approval.
- There is no formal opportunity for the community to comment on this type of development. Therefore, as a councillor, you may receive informal comments about these developments.
- Development requires a development approval before it can occur.
- The planning scheme will identify if the application is code or impact assessable and therefore the process that applies.
Things to remember when making decisions:
- Planning scheme intentions are implemented through development assessment.
- Decisions need to be made within the rules of the system – there are rights, obligations and consequences.
- It takes time and commitment to achieve outcomes – make consistent decisions.
Assessable development can be divided into two sub-categories, code assessable development applications and impact assessable development applications.
Code assessable development applications are for development that is generally expected and can be assessed against the planning scheme requirements. It is not required to be publicly notified.
As a councillor, you may receive informal comments about these development applications. You should encourage your constituents to provide those comments directly to the assessment manager for consideration. This will allow the comment to be considered as part of the decision making, however there are no appeal rights afforded to comments on these applications.
If the assessment manager does not decide a code assessable development application within the period allowed in the Development Assessment (DA) Rules (statutory timeframes), the applicant can give the assessment manager a ‘deemed approval notice’ that states the application should be approved. Once a deemed approval notice is received, the assessment manager has 10 business days to issue a decision notice with or without conditions. Deemed approvals only relate to code assessable applications.
Impact assessable development applications are for complex proposals or where the development has the potential for greater impacts:
- Assessed against the entire planning scheme.
- It is required to be publicly notified for a set period of time.
- The community may make properly made submissions and have appeal rights.
- Depending on the delegations of your local government, these applications may require a full council decision.
- As a councillor, you must make decisions that are consistent with the community vision and strategic plan
‘Properly made’ means made during the public notification period and identifying the person who made the submission.
If a proposed development does not comply with the relevant provisions in the local planning scheme, it still may be possible to approve it – if there is good reason that is in the public interest. This is because in Queensland we have a ‘performance-based planning’ system.
- A special category that only the Queensland Government has the power to set – local governments cannot prohibit development in their planning scheme.
- Limited to a very small number of things.
Parties involved in development assessment
The main parties in the application process are below.
- Applicant – The person who makes the development application.
- Assessment manager – The entity responsible for assessing and deciding an
application, usually this is the local government. Many local governments delegate powers of decision making for certain types of development to senior officers or a
committee. This helps to ensure the efficiency of development assessment processes for the person who makes
- Referral agency – This is an entity that is not the assessment manager but has a role in a development application, when one or more of their interests may be impacted. This is the role of the State Assessment and Referral Agency (SARA) and
comes into play if for example a development may affect a state-controlled road.
- Submitter – A person who makes a properly made submission about a development application when it is publicly notified (impact assessable). Submissions must be considered by the local government when deciding the application. If submissions are properly made, they entitle the submitter to third party appeal rights.
Every development application must go through a standard process from lodgment to decision. This ensures all applications are assessed with the right information, by the right people, and follow the same process.
It is the Development Assessment (DA) Rules that set out this process.
Applications may follow up to seven steps. After the pre-application, there is the application part, the information request part and the referral part, after that there is the public notification part and then the decision part, before it comes to the appeal.
- Pre-application – Applicants may contact the local government to identify any potential issues. Not a formal part of the process but a good idea.
- Application – Preparing the development application meeting the specific criteria so that it is properly made.
- Information request – This is a formal opportunity for the assessment manager and any referral agency to ask the applicant for more information.
- Referral – When a development application requires additional assessment, the application is considered by a referral agency. Note that the state can direct local government to approve an application with or without conditions, issue a preliminary approval only or refuse an application.
- Public notification – Public notification must be undertaken for impact assessable applications.
- Decision – The assessment manager assesses and decides to either refuse or approve the application (with or without conditions). As a councillor, your role is to make decisions on development applications that are required to be decided by the full council at a meeting. Note that sometimes changes can be made to applications during the assessment process to improve their performance against the local planning scheme, and conditions of approval can be set to give certainty about the way the development will be designed, constructed and carried out. Remember that development assessment processes must be fair, reasonable and transparent. Reasons for the decisions are required to be published.
- Appeal – Assessment decisions can be appealed.
Helping the community understand the assessment process
Development approval processes can often create tension between councils and concerned community members.
To maintain trust with the community and prevent misinformation, it is recommended that councils help inform the community of the following key considerations, where applicable:
- Council does not have the legal power to reject development applications on ‘moral grounds’, except if the development is against the town planning scheme. Councils that reject applications unlawfully may be required to pay very high legal costs which must be paid by ratepayers, and ultimately still lead to the development being approved.
- Except in exceptional circumstances, it is not usually fair on property owners to change a planning scheme to ‘down zone’ a property, for example to prevent certain types of development that are currently allowed. This practice can lead to business losses, business uncertainty, and lower levels of investment and future jobs in the local government area.
- Queensland has an outcomes-based planning system, which means council can approve development that does not meet the ‘baseline code’ if it can secure benefits for the community such as new community facilities. To encourage a flexible, efficient and innovative development industry (including environmental innovation), council is required by law to approve development that has reasonable differences to the baseline code that still meet the planning scheme’s overall objectives.
- Council makes developers pay infrastructure charges that help council build important new infrastructure for growing communities including roads, parks, community halls and facilities, and water and sewerage infrastructure.
- Sustainable development, in the right locations, allows communities to grow, can provide new and diverse housing types to meet demographic challenges such as our ageing population, helps improve access to public transport, and can support new local businesses growth and jobs.
- Councils have compliance powers and can invest further in compliance activities if needed to address community concerns such as odour, dust, noise or other pollution.
Council decisions can be tested through appeal. The roles of different parties in dispute resolution are below.
- State government – Sets the rights to appeal on development decisions.
- Planning and environment court – Sets a court-based process for resolving certain matters.
- Development Tribunal – Provides a low-cost, speedier dispute resolution option for certain technical matters.
- Local government – May get involved in the dispute resolution system, for example where an applicant appeals a local government’s decision on a development application, and the local government then defends the decision or aims to reach a negotiated outcome.
- Applicants – May get involved in the dispute resolution system where they disagree with and wish to appeal a state or local government’s decision.
- Community members – May get involved if they made a ‘properly made’ submission on a development application and wish to appeal the development decision
You can find more information about planning, including fact sheets and other useful documents, on our website.
Your local council’s website will also have planning information you can reference.
Last updated: 25 Jan 2023