Planning scheme success shapers

In a moment of unprecedented change, doing things the way they have always been done is not necessarily the right answer. Councils and communities need to approach strategic planning with a fresh lens.

I was recently invited to give my views on must-have inclusions in the new Ipswich Planning Scheme as part of the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA)’s ‘Shaping Ipswich’ event—measures that could support future development and the growth and economic prosperity of the city.

Ipswich, like many regional and metropolitan cities is expected to grow dramatically over the next twenty years, with this growth bringing demand for more housing, transport, jobs and infrastructure.

In reflecting on what Ipswich might need, I realised that there are some universal truths about how our cities, and therefore our planning schemes, need to shift from a business-as-usual approach if we are to respond to the challenges of growth and climate change, and the changes in what people want from their homes and communities post COVID-19.

I believe that the key to a robust and forward-thinking planning scheme lies in the Strategic Plan. So often in the development industry and planning community our conversations around planning scheme amendments and new scheme preparation are about the minutiae. Zone boundaries, lot sizes, setbacks, building heights.

But answers to the questions of how we will accommodate twice the number of people, achieve employment targets or radically reduce waste won’t be found in the details of the overlay codes or site cover calculations. They will be found when we step back and look at the bigger picture–understand where we want to be, the challenges we must resolve to get there, and develop a plan to get to that place.

Jo Cousins presenting at UDIA event

The answers lie in a creative, inclusive, and ambitious strategic planning process. Finding them relies on local authorities who are willing to be brave and embrace bold ideas to make our cities competitive, and our regions equipped to adapt to the change to come. 

So, if strategic planning is answer, what are the six success shaping questions we need to be asking as part of that process?

1. What does the community want?

Communities need to be actively involved in the preparation of a new planning scheme. It can’t be secret planning business. Engagement needs to be genuine, extensive, varied and timely. Our communities are growing rapidly so if we rely on old data or feedback from previous engagement processes to frame our strategic planning, we are not reflecting current community expectations and needs. 

The rapid advancements in our capacity to engage with communities through digital and social media, and gather data from those engagement processes means that early and regular community engagement and communication is possible.

Group of people participating in a community engagement session

Technology can be used as a tool through which to understand and identify opportunities and challenges, and give the community ownership of the solutions.

2. Have we planned for emerging technology?

Our cities will look completely different in the future, and planning schemes need to be capable of responding to the rapid pace of change in technology, and the growing need for sustainability. Do our schemes account sufficiently for the integration of renewable energy, the presence of electric vehicles, and need to accommodate recycling at a scale we’ve never conceived of previously?


3. Are we balancing land availability with constraint?

To accommodate growth, we must responsibly manage complex constraints in greenfield development areas (bushfire, flood, vegetation etc) without disqualifying large areas of potential urban footprint. 

Developing a collective understanding of the ‘non negotiables’ that must be applied to constraint management, and knowing what they really mean for land availability, is key.

Many in the development sector have experienced the scenario where a future urban site that seems enormous gets whittled down to a tiny developable area once all the constraints are taken into account.

It will be important to continually evaluate whether constraint mapping is protecting the right things and allowing development in the right places. It is only then that we will have a realistic view of whether the development density targets set for growth corridors can actually be achieved within the developable land that’s available.


4. How are we accommodating growth and affordability?

Creating new communities that don’t just deliver housing but live up to our liveability ideals should remain front of mind. Planning schemes need to incorporate a strategic vision that encourages a variety of housing typologies and integrates best practice urban design. 

How can we make new communities more liveable, sustainable and affordable? How can infill be delivered well? How do we accommodate the needs of residents at all ages and stages of life?


5. Have we got the right infrastructure and public transport?

A good strategic plan must be developed with catalytic infrastructure at its core. It must also be based on a robust understanding of sequencing constraints for efficient and effective infrastructure delivery.

Delays in development of transport, schools and other essential infrastructure only puts pressure on growth targets for population and housing. Existing and new communities also need access to public transport and active transport infrastructure.


6. How can we develop competitive advantage?

How do our planning schemes contribute to the creation of competitive advantage – to make the city the first choice for people who want to invest in a business or new home? 

What will make the town a great place to live and work that people choose over the alternatives?

Is it the creation of great community and social infrastructure? Maybe it’s offering opportunities for residents to live a green lifestyle, or access to sport and recreation facilities. Maybe it’s all of the above and more. It’s definitely not enough to look at the micro level of individual developments–strategic planning processes must create a compelling value proposition for cities as a whole.



The process of creating a planning scheme is a bit like building a cruise ship–there are innumerable elements and a lot of effort and cost that goes into the construction over many years. And as with cruise liners, once a planning scheme is operational it is hard to suddenly change direction or respond to emerging trends, and easy to find yourself with a product that isn’t meeting community expectations or needs. 

Perhaps our planning schemes need to be more like yachts–functional, sleek and quicker to change course when conditions demand.

As a planning community I think that we need to embrace agile and innovative strategic planning that is set up to make our planning schemes responsive, effective, and workable.

Joanne Cousins

Practice Leader - Planning, Brisbane

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