Planning tools


Information in this topic is worded in a general way to suit the circumstances in all Australian states and territories.

You will find an explanation of words in italics in 1.2 Planning language.


The basic tools used to manage land use and development in Australia are strategic land use plans and land use controls. These basic tools are found in planning schemes and other planning instruments. The terms used to describe the tools may vary between states and territories.

These tools are based on basic planning principles such as:
  • important natural resources are preserved;
  • urban settlement is contained to ensure that roads and other infrastructure such as water, sewerage, power, and telecommunications are provided efficiently;
  • the economy is supported by maintaining a hierarchy of business centres;
  • community services, facilities and open space are fairly distributed; and
  • incompatible land uses are separated.

Planning schemes typically contain statements of objectives relating to each of these principles to help interpret the strategic land use plan and land use controls.

Strategic land use plan

The strategic land use plan (also called a strategic plan or preferred urban settlement pattern) covers the whole planning authority area. It shows broad land use allocations for the future, such as residential, commercial and industrial uses, as well as location of open space and major infrastructure. The strategic land use plan also makes statements about timing and the provision of services to contribute to social, economic and environmental objectives.

Land use controls

Each council area is divided into smaller areas called zones. Every parcel of land is identified on a map as being in a particular zone such as residential zone, rural zone, industrial zone, or commercial zone. Zones are used to group areas with similar characteristics together, to integrate mutually beneficial areas, and to separate incompatible uses. Zoning identifies areas where particular development requirements apply. The planning scheme sets out in words the main land use/uses intended for each zone and may also identify other uses that are considered incompatible in that zone.
There may also be a number of overlays affecting land. These overlays show land constrained for development (such as floodable land, areas of environmental protection, or areas with particular height limitations) and are read in conjunction with the zoning map.

Development tables accompany the zoning maps and set out the range of land uses likely to be compatible with the objectives for each zone and the type of development application required. The type of development application also determines whether or not public notification of the proposal is needed, giving the general community an opportunity to comment on the proposed development.

In general, proposed land uses that could have a negative impact on the amenity of an area are required to be publicly notified. Requirements for public notification are set out in state planning legislation.
Once land has been identified as suitable for a particular land use through zoning, standards are then needed to control how new development is designed, constructed and carried out, to ensure it won’t have a negative effect on amenity and against which proposed development is assessed if development approval is required.

These standards are organised in a number of different ways.
  • general controls applying across a whole of the planning authority area and for all kinds of development (such as engineering standards for new roads and footpaths);
  • locality controls (such as design controls applying to new development in a heritage area, or minimum buffer areas for new development adjacent to an airport);
  • controls applying to particular uses (such as number of car parking spaces required for each land use type); and
  • subdivision of land controls (such as minimum size and frontage for any new lots created).

Typically, these land use controls include an explanation of what the control is intending to achieve and why.

Other tools
As well as controlling development, planning authorities also shape the development of cities and towns by location of infrastructure and services such as roads, rail, water and sewerage, and through investment in major urban design improvements.

Related topics:
More on-line resources:

Planning scheme and development applications:
  • Your local council’s website

General town planning information:
Planning legislation, planning process, and planning instruments in each state or territory:
We will build this list over time and invite you to contact us with suggested links you are aware of that can be added to this page.

Want to know more?
Is there something more you want to know about this topic? Contact us with your ideas for future inclusion in TOWN PLANNING FOR EVERYONE resources.

© The Planning Academy 2011
Last updated: 9 Dec 2013

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