How do you Read a Development Plan?

Importance of the Development Plan

A Development Application must only be assessed against the provisions of the Development Plan, and cannot be granted a consent where it is assessed as being seriously at variance with the Development Plan (Section 35(2) of the Development Act).

An application has to be assessed against the Development Plan that is in place at the time an application is lodged.

Structure of the Development Plan

Development Plans generally contain:

An Index
The index of the ‘General’ or ‘Council Wide’ provisions, zones, tables and zone maps.

General Provisions (applying Council Wide)
Development Plans generally contain general or broad provisions (called Objectives and Principles of Development Control), which are applicable for development throughout the whole Development Plan area.

Zone Provisions
Zone provisions provide detailed policy for each zone within the Development Plan. They provide a framework for development envisaged within a particular geographic area and provide specific policies for assessing development within that zone. Zone provisions generally list kinds of development that are 'complying' within the zone (either outright or subject to specific conditions) and those developments which are 'non-complying' within that zone. Zones may also contain lists of activities that are subject to certain public notification requirements.

Policy Area Provisions
Some Development Plans also divide zones into smaller sub-areas, called Precincts or Policy Areas, for which additional policies may apply.

Tables may be referred to in the zone provisions or general principles, which provide specific criteria or standards applying to various forms of development; often these apply in more than one zone. Examples could include building set-back distances or lists of local heritage places.

Zoning Maps
Maps detailing the location and boundaries of specific zones and precincts/policy areas appear at the back of the Development Plan. An index of maps will appear at the front of the Zoning Maps section.
Source: Department of Planning and Local Government

Using the Development Plan

The following basic steps are suggested to help users navigate through a Development Plan.

Step 1    Determine what zone (and policy area) the land is located within

  • refer to the Index to Zones Map (using the Table of Contents at the front) and find the specific Zone Map for the general locality of the property
  • from the Zone Map, locate the property and hence the zone in which it is situated
  • if there is a policy area within the zone, reference to this is shown on the zone map, so look carefully
  • check through the Development Plan to identify if there are any overlay-type maps that introduce particular policy (eg watershed, flood or bushfire protection areas)
  • from the Table of Contents, find the pages in which the policies for that particular zone (and policy area if applicable) are located.

Step 2    What does the zone (and policy area) provisions say?

  • carefully read the zone provisions (and policy area if applicable) as these will describe what can be done with the land and will in most cases set out what uses may be allowed and what are unacceptable
  • read also and consider if your development will be consistent with the Desired Character Statement for the zone (if there is one)
  • have a very close look at the list of non-complying kinds of development to make sure the development does not fall within that list - where a land use or activity is defined as ‘non-complying’, it will generally not be granted consent (this is because it is a kind of development that is considered inappropriate in that zone)
  • if a development application is listed as ‘complying’, consent will be granted provided that the application meets all the standards for complying development, usually listed as a Table in the Development Plan
    Note: you should also check Schedule 4 of the Development Regulations to check if the development is complying.
  • if the development is not listed on either the complying or non-complying lists, then this type of development is referred to as a ‘merit’ (or ‘consent’) development, which then requires an assessment against all relevant provisions of the Development Plan (those in the zone and those in the General/Council wide section – see step 3).

Step 3    Consider all relevant General/Council wide policies

  • if the zone (and policy area if applicable) suggests the development is possible, you will need to refer to the General/Council wide policies for an idea of the development standards that may apply to the particular type of use or building you are looking at
  • essentially, the zone policies give you an idea of what can be built and where it can be built and the more broad General/Council wide policies establish how that development should proceed
  • it is common for the General/Council wide policies to be set out under various topic headings and many of these will be relevant, some in a general sense and others in a more detailed way.

Step 4    Form an opinion about the development

  • having done the above you should be able to get a feel for whether a proposed development is likely to be appropriate or not and to identify what matters need further detailed consideration to determine if the proposal will be acceptable.

Important points to note

  • procedures are all-important – make sure you get the procedural requirements right in dealing with the application
  • remember that reference needs to be made to all parts of a Development Plan to get a full appreciation of the relevant policies that apply to any site or to a particular form of development
  • you must assess development applications giving consideration to all relevant provisions of the Development Plan and make a judgement, on balance, having regard for all relevant provisions, the acceptability or otherwise of a development proposal
  • the policies in the Development Plan are advisory in nature, not mandatory (note the near exclusive use of the word ‘should’ not ‘must’), and therefore must be weighed up one against the other as to their relevance and applicability to a particular proposal.

Where to Access Development Plans

All Development Plans are available online on the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure website