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  • Writer's pictureVishal Saxena

How to check what I can build on my block in Canberra and new planning rules in territory plan 2024

Updated: Dec 24, 2023

Very important changes have been introduced by ACT government to the territory plan from November 2023.


Read on to understand some of the highlights of the new planning changes introduced in ACT


The rule changes are far reaching and will impact of how and what we build in Canberra in the coming years ; Example : No plot ratio limits on large block i.e. blocks over 500 sq. meter but new mandatory conditions in ground coverage introduced which can severely limit your ability to build without having a experienced architect to design it for you


The new ACT planning system was notified on November 27, 2023, after receiving approval from the ACT Legislative Assembly (LA).


The new planning system represents a shift from a rules-based approach to development assessment to what is referred to as an 'outcomes-focused' planning system.

What exactly is meant by an 'outcomes-focused' planning system? While certain controls and parameters will continue to influence aspects of development, such as site coverage, the new system places greater emphasis on considering the impact on the immediate surroundings.


The new Territory Plan, along with supporting design guides, defines the desired outcomes that developments must achieve. Development applications will need to demonstrate how they align with the assessment outcomes outlined in the Territory Plan. Additionally, for specific development types, they must show how they adhere to the design guidance provided in the design guides.


In contrast to the previous 'rules-based' planning system, the new system prioritizes the overall result that needs to be achieved, rather than enforcing strict compliance with a set of specific mandatory provisions.


This system operates on a hierarchy consisting of City-level, District-level, and Suburb-level objectives.


What's different about the development assessment process in the new system? To better understand the new Territory Plan, it's helpful to refer to the diagram that illustrates the intersections between various documents.


One crucial document is Part E Zone Policies, particularly the Residential Zones Policy. This document outlines the Policy Outcomes, Assessment Outcomes, and Key Assessment Requirements that are central to residential development applications.


District Policies, found in Part D, provide guidance for more significant projects on how they should align with the broader area context. They detail the key assessment requirements and expected outcomes specific to each district, and there are nine declared districts.

Other important documents include the Design Guides and the Residential Zones Technical Specifications. The design guides encompass the Housing Design Guide (HDG), the Urban Design Guide (UDG), and the Biodiversity Sensitive Design Guide (BDG).


The HDG is mandatory for all residential development applications except single or secondary dwellings. The UDG is required for significant developments, such as buildings over 5-storeys or with 10,000 sqm of GFA. The BDG applies only to significant subdivisions.

The Residential Zones Technical Specifications contain various benchmarks (e.g., setbacks, solar access, heights) that can be used to demonstrate compliance with Key Assessment Requirements. However, compliance with these technical specifications alone may not guarantee approval for larger or more complex developments unless they also address other policy outcomes in the Territory Plan.


Other key changes in the application process include:

· There will be only one assessment track, combining code, impact, and merit assessments.

· Standard assessment timeframes for significant developments will be set at 60 days, regardless of public notification responses. If the application is amended, the 60-day period will restart.

· The mandatory pre-DA community consultation has been eliminated, but a second public notification period will replace it.

· A new Pre-Decision Advice stage will be introduced. If an application is likely to be refused by the authority, the proponent will receive advice to amend the application or seek a decision.

Is it still possible to undertake exempt developments? Yes, the system is evolving to consider how the final result impacts its surroundings, but the exempt development pathway will remain.


Previously, Exempt Developments were governed by the Planning and Development Regulation 2008 and the Single Dwelling Housing Development Code. Under the new system, these will be replaced by the Planning (Exempt Development) Regulation 2023 and the Residential Zones – Single Dwelling Housing Development Controls (yet to be finalized and released).


What other changes does the new planning system introduce? Some of the general changes include:


· Residential Zone 1 (RZ1) permitting dual-occupancy developments on large blocks (over 800 sqm), allowing a modest second dwelling (up to 120 sqm plus a garage), with the option to unit title the second dwelling. Certain requirements like mandatory site coverage and soft landscaping still apply.

· Blocks in Residential Zone 2 (RZ2) to Residential Zone 5 (RZ5) can be subdivided without the requirement to construct a new dwelling first.

· Increased dwelling limits for multi-unit housing in RZ2.

· Permission for two-storey apartments in RZ2.

· A new requirement for a 'buffer' zone in mixed-use buildings between residential dwellings and noisy uses such as bars or gyms.

· Prohibition of new gas connections in residential subdivisions.

Where can I find more information? The Environment Protection and Sustainable Development Directorate is rolling out a training and education program, including a series of webinars, over the coming months to support users of the new system. Participants will need to attend a two-hour foundational course, followed by nine optional one-hour subject-specific courses.

A dedicated planning support hotline is available at 02 6205 0580


You can call and discuss your specific block by calling Hyperspace's expert planners and architects on 02 90710499 or 0406972585

Are you planning a home renovation project in Canberra? If so, you'll want to start by understanding what you can build on your block. Canberra has specific planning and building regulations that must be followed, so it's important to do your research before starting your renovation. Here are some steps you can take to find out what you can build on your block in Canberra:

  1. Check Actmapi

A Suburb in Canberra Aerial View  by Hyperspace Architects
A Suburb in Canberra Aerial View

Actmapi is the ACT mapping website that provides information on Territory Plan overlays, zoning of your block, links to the Territory Plan, heritage and bushfire-prone areas, and more. This website can help you understand the specific rules and regulations that apply to your block. The first step in determining what you can build on your block is to check its zoning. This will tell you what types of buildings are allowed in your area, as well as any restrictions on height, size, or location.

To find out your block's zoning, visit the ACT Government's ePlanning portal and search for your property. You can also view a range of planning maps and overlay information that may affect your development proposal. Some of the key zoning types that you may encounter in Canberra include RZ1, RZ2, RZ3, RZ4, CZ1, and CZ2.

This would also tell you in conjunction with the Territory plan whether you are allowed to do a subdivision on your block.

To give an example in RZ2 zoning in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), regulations governing the utilization of RZ2 plots larger than 800m2 permit the construction of two residences on the same parcel. These properties can be legally separated into distinct ownerships. Updates to rezoning criteria have also been implemented, now allowing a reduced minimum plot size of 700m2 for certain blocks impacted by the 'Mr Fluffy' issue and part of the Buyback Program. If this prospect intrigues you, Hyperspace Architects can evaluate your land's potential, ensuring that the residences we develop optimize natural lighting, spatial utilization, and environmental considerations, all while safeguarding your privacy. This option proves particularly appealing to those looking to downsize while capitalizing on the additional property.

Similarly you can design and construct Granny flats better known as secondary homes in RZ1 blocks in Canberra or multigenerational homes with separate kitchens.

The exact needs and way to achieve them can be discussed with your architect.



Dual Occupancy Developments


As Canberra grows, the ACT Government is committed to providing a diversity of different housing types.

As part of the new Territory Plan, the Government wanted to hear from Canberrans on whether more single residential homes should be built within our existing suburbs through increasing dual occupancy developments. Creating dual occupancy homes means allowing two single dwelling properties, with separate title, to be built on the same block. This is currently not permitted under zoning requirements for the majority of Canberra’s suburbs.

This is a similar concept to changes introduced for some larger blocks purchased through the Asbestos Buyback Scheme, which allowed for dual occupancy developments. Changes in this space (for example, allowing for dual occupancy on larger blocks in RZ1 areas of the city or expanding RZ2 zones) will provide the possibility for more single residential homes available in many of Canberra’s established suburbs.


You can access Actmapi here: https://app.actmapi.act.gov.au/.



2.Arrange a Site Survey

A Surveyor at work by Hyperspace Architects
A Surveyor at work

Contact a registered surveyor and arrange a survey of your block. A site survey will show the location of your home on the block, contours, tree heights and locations, your block boundaries (fences are not always on boundaries), and all other surface and cadastral features of your land. You can find a list of registered surveyors on the Access Canberra website: https://www.accesscanberra.act.gov.au/app/services/licence/#/land-surveyor.


3. Search Your Building File

When you purchased your home, a building file search should have been included in your contract of sale. This search should include any approved plans for the original home, carports, garages, and any renovation works since. If there is anything unapproved on your block, this will be flagged in the search, and it can help you identify how your existing home was constructed. If you need a new building file search, you can request it here: https://form.act.gov.au/smartforms/servlet/SmartForm.html?formCode=1073.


4.Study the Territory Plan


A Surveyor at work by Hyperspace Architects
Canberra City Centre Plan

The Territory Plan is a statutory document that guides planning and development in the ACT. Within the Territory Plan, you can find precinct maps and codes (by suburb/district), codes by zoning (e.g. RZ1), and development codes for residential zones. The Single Dwelling Housing Code is the main code to consider, as it lists setbacks, building and solar envelopes, and more. You can access the Territory Plan here: https://www.legislation.act.gov.au/ni/2008-27/Current.


5.Do Your Research

Renovating your home is a challenging project but also incredibly rewarding. Take your time to think about why and what you are hoping to achieve, what your priorities are, and what your realistic budget is. Talk to family, friends, neighbours, and check out some of these great free resources:

  • ACT government "Buy, Build or Renovate" website: https://www.planning.act.gov.au/build-buy-renovate/build-buy-or-renovate

  • Your Home website: https://www.yourhome.gov.au/

  • Houzz website: https://www.houzz.com.au/

  • Pinterest website: https://www.pinterest.com.au/

It's important to remember that every block is unique, so it's essential to do your research and understand what you can build on your specific block in Canberra. By following these steps, you can ensure that your renovation project complies with all the relevant regulations and guidelines.


6. Speak to an architect and a builder


There are some architects who specialize in house designing in Canberra as residential architects who do house plans, undertake interior services and interior design of homes , residential renovations, knock down and rebuilds, extensions, secondary homes (granny flats) etc and similar is the situation with the builders- You need to hire a specialist architect like that. Hyperspace Architecture are the best architects for such design work in Canberra.

At the end of the day the planning is Canberra is pretty complex and governed by multitudes of mandatory rules, criterions which an architect can negotiate with EPSDD / ACTPLA and conditions to comply in relation to trees, entity approvals. To navigate this you need to talk to your architect and explain your requirements.


Good luck in your journey to build your new or extension to your home.


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