Australia: Key implications of the draft south-east Queensland regional plan (ShapingSEQ)


On 20 October 2016, the state government released the Draft South East Queensland Regional Plan (ShapingSEQ). ShapingSEQ sets out a 25-year strategy to manage the region's growth through to 2041. For the first time this strategy is guided by an overarching 50-year vision. Parties wishing to make a formal submission have until midnight 3 March 2017.

ShapingSEQ's vision is underpinned by five themes: grow, prosper, connect, sustain and live. While each theme includes several highlights such as the promotion of place-making initiatives and an extensive commitment to extending public transport networks, a deeper analysis highlights key land use and financial implications for local government and developers.


South East Queensland (SEQ) is currently home to approximately 3.4 million people. This represents one in seven Australians and 70% of Queensland's population. A projected annual growth rate of 65,000 over the next 25 years is anticipated to see the region's population reach 5.35 million by 2041.

While every local government within SEQ is projected to experience growth over the next 25 years, those most drastically affected include Ipswich, Logan, Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast. Projected growth rates in Ipswich and Logan are particularly noteworthy, achieving increases of 169.4% and 89.8% respectively. Such growth highlights the ongoing strategic importance of the western and southern growth corridors.


While previous SEQ Regional Plans calculated the urban footprint on a theoretical basis, ShapingSEQ has refined the process so that the urban footprint now reflects realistic land supply. The new urban footprint now takes account of influencing factors such as land use, developer capacity, market forces and the timing of supporting infrastructure.

Critically, ShapingSEQ also requires all SEQ local governments to maintain at least a 15-year supply of zoned and potentially serviceable land. The state government is committed to monitoring planning schemes and land stock annually to ensure compliance.


To manage the region's growth to 2041, ShapingSEQ sets a ratio of 60% infill to 40% greenfield development. At first glance this ratio represents a complete reversal of the target set out under the state's first SEQ Regional Plan. However, ShapingSEQ has redefined both greenfield and infill development to produce a result that conflicts with traditional interpretations.

Whether development is classed as greenfield or infill is now entirely dependent on a site's position in relation to a statistical division's boundary. Development inside the statistical division's boundary will be classed as infill, while development outside will be classed as greenfield.

Aerial and land use mapping confirms that the statistical division's boundary is not reflective of whether land is in fact developed. Consequently, ShapingSEQ defines numerous areas such as land within Coomera as greenfield development, despite the fact they are largely developed.

This new interpretation disguises the fact that there is substantially less greenfield land remaining in SEQ than the 40% reported within ShapingSEQ. As a consequence, it is expected that emerging community greenfield land will be at a premium over the next 25 years.


State government statistics indicate infill development has become increasingly prevalent in recent years. For example, infill development accounted for 97% of all new development in Brisbane between 2011 and 2015. Between 2006 and 2015, 69% of SEQ dwelling approvals were granted within existing urban areas. Overall lot size also decreased from 640m2 in 2007 to 477m2 in 2015.

At the same time, factors such as the global financial crisis and the cost of infrastructure have seen slower than expected uptakes of residential land in key greenfield locations such as the Ripley Valley and Caloundra South, although there have been significant exceptions such as Yarrabilba.

To accommodate projected population growth, the state anticipates SEQ will require 907,200 new dwellings by 2041. Of these new dwellings, ShapingSEQ sets a benchmark of 548,700 within infill locations. To successfully achieve such a target, it will be necessary to gradually transition away from traditional detached houses to increase the proportion of alternative dwellings.

Changes to dwelling stock have traditionally occurred quite slowly. For example, in 2001 detached dwellings accounted for 75.5% of all dwellings. By 2011, a decrease of 1.1% was achieved. More recently the speed of this change has increased. For example, between 2011 and 2015 more than half of residential approvals were for dwellings other than houses.

In an effort to ensure affordable housing and design are not sidelined at the expense of ongoing densification and infill development, ShapingSEQ aims to address the "missing middle". This term refers to the lack of dwelling types between detached houses and high-rise units.

ShapingSEQ encourages developers to adopt increasingly diverse products, including "Fonzie" flats, "plexes", row houses, terrace houses and medium rise apartments. The state highlights Northshore Hamilton and Fitzgibbon Chase as positive examples of such development. Market demand and uptake will largely confirm whether such offerings become common place.


ShapingSEQ's timeframes are currently in conflict with those adhered to by local government. As noted, ShapingSEQ sets out a 25-year strategy to manage growth to 2041 and a 50-year vision to guide development through to 2066. It also requires local governments to maintain a 15-year supply of zoned and serviceable land through to 2031.

At the same time, the strategic frameworks of local government planning schemes prepared under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (SPA) have a strategic planning horizon of 20 years (2031) and a land use (zoning) horizon of only 10 years (2026).

Local Government Infrastructure Plans (LGIPs) within SPA planning schemes also feature priority infrastructure planning areas with a planning horizon of 10 to 15 years (2026-2031). Recent history indicates that SEQ councils are choosing to adopt the minimum period of 10 years.


Given the timeframes currently adopted within the majority of LGIPs, ShapingSEQ's requirement that 15 years of zoned and serviceable land be maintained effectively means that local governments must fund a further five years of local development infrastructure. This move has the potential to significantly increase the financial burden on local governments which are already managing tight budgets and increasing debt burdens.

This increased financial burden is also being imposed at a time when local governments are limited to capped infrastructure charges. The short-term implications of its capped framework include increased local government debt, increased rates and reduced services. Long-term implications include unsustainable financial markets and ongoing political instability.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Ian Wright
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