Urban development in 8 steps

Good active travel infrastructure in the ACT requires some understanding of urban planning. The ACT Government provides many documents that are very detailed, and often highly technical, so that it is easy to become overwhelmed. A simple explanation of urban planning in Canberra is a good start.


Step 1: population projections
Step 2: spatial planning
Step 3: Future Urban Area
Step 4: environmental studies
Step 5: Planning and Design Framework
Step 6: project brief
Step 7: staging the development
Step 8: sale of blocks

Step 1: population projections

Predict the population growth to determine the demand for housing.

Latest ACT Population Projections – Treasury, ACT Government

Information box: ACT population update 30 June 2022

ACT population 454,499: 2021 ABS Census

The most recent ABS Census was conducted on 10 August 2021. Only now is the data being released. The population of the ACT is important for data comparisons and, importantly for the ACT, for funding ($$$) from the Federal Government. You will find this number behind in many articles on canberra.bike.

Molonglo Valley highlights

Molonglo Valley has a rapidly growing population. The population on the census night was 11,435 people. The proportion of the population in the 25-39 years brackets is almost twice as high as the ACT average, and 74 years and above less than a third. The ancestry data is notable, with almost 3 times replying Indian as the ACT average. The population is language diverse with households where a non-English language is used twice the ACT average (outliers are Punjabi, Telugu and Malayalam). The population is almost twice as likely to live in flats or apartments (35.2%) as the ACT average (19.4%). Those living is separate houses is lower than the ACT average (40.8% versus 63.2% ACT). In most other respects, Molonglo falls close to what is typical for the ACT, including schooling (type of educational institution attending). The new nappy valley? No.

Gungahlin highlights

ABS 2021 Census data, tell us that Gungahlin is a very typical Canberra district, with a population of 87,682. A notable difference is that people with parents born in Indian, Chinese or Pakistan are twice as likely as the Canberra average, and the languages spoken at home (Indian, Mandarin and Urdu) and religious affiliation (Hinduism and Islam) show the same pattern. Median weekly incomes are spot on the Canberra average. Two thirds of the population live in a detached house, which is typical for Canberra. Gungahlin Council resists the construction of new flats or apartments. That might leave the impression they have a lot of them. The census suggests otherwise. Fewer people live in apartments in Gungahlin than is typical for Canberra (13.1% versus 19.4% in ACT and Molonglo Valley 35.2%).

Step 2: spatial planning

Work out where you can put all those people. This involves zoning different parts of the city for different purposes. All that goes into the Territory Plan.

The ACT strategy: Compact and efficient city

The 2012 ACT Planning Strategy sought to create a more compact, efficient and inclusive city that is renowned for its liveability. Since then, major changes have taken place to accommodate the growing city; the first stage of our light rail network is being constructed, urban renewal is transforming parts of our city and we have committed to a carbon neutral future.

ACT Planning Strategy 2018 (ACT Government, 2018)

The two key options to manage urban growth include:

Infill development

Infill development (urban renewal) involves increasing the capacity of our existing urban area to support growth. It requires the strategic identification of areas where development can be focussed, including the following:

Urban intensification areas – the city centre, town and group centres and transit corridors which are areas of high accessibility.

Areas within the existing residential footprint – blocks or sites in appropriate locations with the capacity to accommodate increased housing supply, density and choice; for example, large blocks in accessible locations with the potential for dual occupancy development. This could apply to the RZ1 Residential zone under the Territory Plan.

Areas close to local centres (400 metres /average 5 minute walk) – areas that could be suited to medium density housing typologies. This could apply to the RZ2 Residential zone under the Territory Plan.

ACT Planning Strategy 2018 (ACT Government, 2018)

Step 3: Future Urban Area

Work out where the greenfield developments are going to be. Here is the example for Molonglo Valley.

The timeline for the Molonglo Valley (figure 1) shows that the planning started in 2004. Planning can be a slow process. The Coombs and Wright Concept Plan is from 2010. 

Molonglo stage 2 planning process

Getting your head around urban planning in the ACT is not easy. The ACT Government explained the process for Molonglo Valley Stage 2 as part of the ACT Government community consultation.

Unfortunately, the information pack is about all that can be found for this consultation. The documents on the ACT Government website tend to be lost to the public as the pages are move, deleted and redesigned. For this reason, this document can be downloaded from this article.

Figure 1: Timeline for planning strategies for development of Molonglo Valley
Figure 2: Planning phases for Molonglo Valley stage 2

Step 4: environmental studies

Further planning and studies. For the Molonglo Valley the environmental considerations have had a significant impact on the estate development. These two documents are important. 

  • Molonglo Valley Plan for the Protection of Matters of National Significance: NES Plan September 2011
  • Molonglo River Reserve: Reserve Management Plan 2019

The Molonglo Valley is a large area and was therefore broken up into stages: Stage 1 consisting of the suburbs of Coombs and Wright, and the region of North Weston, Stage 2 the suburbs of Denman Prospect and Molonglo, and Stage 3 the suburbs north of the Molonglo River.

Step 5: Planning and Design Framework

For each stage, write a Planning and Design Framework (PDF). A Planning and Design Framework is a strategic document that describes the development and how it is to achieve, guiding the planning of the later stages. Examples:

  • Molonglo Valley Stage 2 Planning and Design Framework (ACT Government, April 2012)
  • Molonglo Valley Stage 3 Planning and Design Framework (ACT Government, February 2019)

Step 6: project brief

The first phase of detailed estate planning begins. Example: Molonglo 3 East

Molonglo 3 East Planning and Infrastructure Study Project Brief (2 December 2019) describes the scope of work for design tender and was released by the Major Projects Canberra Infrastructure Delivery Partner Group.

The design work is outsourced to a consultancy. The consultancy reports back with options and a design concept. This design concept becomes part of the Territory Plan.

Step 7: staging the development

A second, more detailed design phase is required, and the estate may be broken up into development phases. 

Example: Whitlam

The Whitlam estate development has a staged land release: stage 1 from early 2020, stage 2 from late 2020 – early 2021, stage 3 2022 and stage 4 in 2023.

Whitlam from the east boundary fence, The Pinnacle Offset Area, The Pinnacle, Belconnen
Whitlam from the east boundary fence, The Pinnacle Offset Area, The Pinnacle, Belconnen

Step 8: sale of blocks

For each stage, the blocks are sold for private development. The first land release in Whitlam in stage 1 is set for March 2020.

Example: Wright, Molonglo Valley, ACT Suburban Land Agency

Figure 6: Wright, Molonglo Valley sales brochure

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