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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?

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.

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​.

Find out more about What is planning?

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.

Find out more about the three systems of the planning framework and roles and responsibilities.

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. ​

Statutory 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.

Select either of the topics below to find out more information:

Local planning schemes

Each local government has its own local planning scheme. It's a document which informs us - the community, development industry and governments - about how each local government plans to manage growth and change. A local planning scheme outlines what sort of development you can expect in your local area.

Local Planning Schemes regulate:

  • 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).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.
  • Planning schemes generally include;
    • introductory and context
    • strategic outcomes
    • state planning provisions
    • the strategic framework
    • the local government infrastructure plan
    • tables of assessment
    • categories of development and assessment
    • the zones
    • assessment benchmarks (i.e., local plans and overlays
    • use codes
    • development codes
    • other plans and schedules (including definitions and mapping)
    • a local government infrastructure plan.
  • 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.

Key documents

  • 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. The Planning Minister can also make a TLPI under the Planning Act to protect, or give effect to, a state interest. 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.

State government:

  • 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.

Local government:

  • 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.

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 submissions 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.

Operational work

Making changes to the land itself (e.g., earthworks, vegetation clearing).

Building work

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:

  • accepted
  • assessable
  • prohibited

Find out more about each category of assessment

Things to remember when making decisions: ​

  • Planning scheme intentions are implemented through the development assessment​ system.
  • 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.
  • Assessed against matters outlined in the Planning Regulation 2017 and may be assessed against any other relevant matter, such as planning need.
  • 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.

As with code assessment, the assessment manager (local or state) must also publish the reasons for their decision.

Parties involved in development assessment

Development assessment  is when a proposed development is assessed against a set assessment category and assessment requirements.

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.

Assessment process

Every development application must go through a standard process  from lodgement 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, information request, referral, public notification and the decision, before it comes to the appeal .

  1. Pre-lodgement – Applicants may contact the local government to identify any potential issues. Not a formal part of the process but a good idea. ​
  2. Application – Preparing the development application meeting the specific criteria so that it is properly made​.
  3. 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. ​
  4. Information request – This is a formal opportunity for the assessment manager and any referral agency to ask the applicant for more information.
  5. Public notification – Public notification must be undertaken for impact assessable applications​.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 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 a performance-based planning system, which means council can approve development that does not meet the ‘baseline code’ in certain circumstances. 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 may require developers to 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.

Dispute resolution

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

Find out more about how planning works.

More information

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: 28 Jul 2023