Community Consultation in Planning: How the needs and desires of the community are represented in the planning system

Following on from our previous blog where we outlined the role of a town planner in the Queensland town planning system, this month’s blog looks at the (statutory) community consultation aspects of the system. We explain the stages and opportunities available for you to get involved and have your say on planning and development matters in the State of Queensland. Read on to discover how and when you can ensure that your say can have maximum effect.

Whether you own, rent or invest in property (land or buildings), you have the potential to be affected by town planning decisions, so this blog should be of broad audience benefit.

Community consultation is an aspect of the system not many people understand or appreciate. It’s also one of, if not the most important components in making the system transparent and inclusive. Although a function undertaken by government, town planning is an activity essentially to be determined ‘by the people, for the people’, so it’s a key component of the system that one would expect in a democratic society such as ours.

Firstly, it’s necessary to understand the difference between ‘planning’ and ‘development’. ‘Planning’ is the activity of plan making or formulating policy (ie writing the rules), whereas ‘development’ is the activity of developing property (ie building buildings, subdividing land, etc). ‘Planning’ is typically undertaken by government, whereas ‘development’ is typically undertaken by development individuals/companies/organisations – usually the private sector. Therefore, ‘planning’ establishes the rules and ‘development’ is performed under the rules, generally as a commercial exercise to either improve enjoyment of or profit from the land. Understanding this difference enables us to explain the various stages and opportunities available to stakeholders to have a say in both ‘planning’ and ‘development’.

I think it’s fair to say that those of us who work in the planning & development profession recognise that the opportunities for community participation within the Queensland Planning Framework are significant. Some might go so far as saying there’s too much. However, despite state & local government planning authorities making information available through various mediums, we appreciate that those not familiar with the profession may disagree. That is most likely because the majority of information disseminated (and there is a lot) is disregarded until one is personally affected by it. Have you seen the movie - The Castle? It’s a satirical portrayal of the English saying that ‘a man’s home is his castle’. In The Castle, the protagonist had no reason to become involved in planning and development decisions until it was almost too late – an extension to the adjoining airport was proposed and the Kerrigan family home was required for the extension to occur. The movie depicts the protagonist’s struggle to fight the proposed development and keep his castle by way of appeals to the courts.

We all lead busy lives and it’s easiest to focus only on what affects us on a day to day basis but here’s the thing – both planning and development (collectively known as town planning) have the potential to affect each and every one of us, just like the Kerrigans, because as stated earlier in this blog, we all either own, rent or invest in property.

When the phone rings in our office and the caller is clearly anxious over a planning issue or development proposed in their street, it’s not uncommon to receive a complaint of being disregarded in the process and perhaps conspired against by the local government and the development proponent, so now they must fight back. Whilst we understand their position, we sensitively explain to them that they have neither been disregarded nor conspired against but rather it’s the planning system playing out itself in a very logical and methodical way (as per the legislative rule book). The same as it is in the eyes of the law, ignorance is no excuse in the planning system (i.e. being unaware of the town planning rules). It is government’s responsibility to ensure that every reasonable effort is made to provide meaningful information publicly and it is up to the community to accept and process the information and decide whether to participate – it’s a two-way street. A negative or defensive reaction (known colloquially as NIMBYism) most likely arises from a lack of understanding of the rules or one’s rights and the opportunities to participate constructively in the system as a stakeholder. NIMBY is an acronym for ‘not in my backyard’ to describe a person/s who resists unwanted development in his or her own neighbourhood or town.

The rest of this blog sets out the various opportunities for stakeholder participation in the system and explains the best time you should become involved to constructively shape the future of your community. Armed with this knowledge, there may even be circumstances for you to become a YIMBY – ‘yes in my backyard’.


What many people don't realise is that there’s community consultation stages for all aspects of the town planning framework. The secret is that this is the part of the system where your voice can have the greatest impact.

The Sustainable Planning Act prescribes consultation periods for the preparation of all planning instruments so that the public can be offered the opportunity to be consulted.

For state planning instruments, a notice about the draft instrument is published in the gazette and also in a newspaper circulating in the area to which the instrument applies. Among other things, the notice must state that written submissions can be made by any person and state the length of the consultation period during which submissions may be made.
The length of the consultation periods can vary among different instruments as follows:

Similar to consultation for these planning instruments at the State level, when a local government makes a new (or amends an existing) planning scheme or planning scheme policy, it must publish a notice in a newspaper circulating in the local government’s area to allow the public to make submissions about the proposed planning scheme or planning scheme policy. You may not be aware that the local government is required to advise persons who make a properly made submission about how they have dealt with the submission. This information is also to be conveyed to the Minister when it is being decided for approval.

The length of the consultation periods is different for a planning scheme and planning scheme policy as follows:

  • for a planning scheme—30 business days; and
  • for a planning scheme policy—20 business days.


Development assessment is undertaken under the Integrated Development Assessment System (IDAS) – a part of the Sustainable Planning Act. Development is categorised into several ‘levels of assessment’ based on the potential impacts and appropriateness of a use for a particular zone. The various levels of assessment are:

  • Self-assessment;
  • Compliance Assessment;
  • Code Assessment; and
  • Impact Assessment

Of these, it is important to note that statutory consultation (with avenue for 3rd party appeal) is only available for Impact Assessment development applications. The statutory requirement for public notification requires a notice to be placed on each road frontage of the land, a notice published in a newspaper that circulates in the area of the proposed development and a letter to all adjoining landowners notifying them of the proposed development and how they may make a submission. Generally, the notification period is 15 business days (but in certain circumstances can be 30 business days). During the notification period, anyone may make a submission is support of or objecting to the development. The local government must consider all properly made submissions when deciding the development application. Regardless of what is written in a submission, Council can only ultimately consider planning grounds when making their decision and any emotive or preferential matters (i.e. taste) are likely to be ignored. The planning grounds they primarily consider are contained within the planning scheme and therefore any submission to be made should be in respect of those grounds. Persons who make a properly made submission will be provided with a copy of Council’s decision for the application and a submitter has the right of appeal to the Planning and Environment Court about the decision.

Brisbane City Council provides a very good summary of the consultation procedure for development applications and this information is probably relevant across all Queensland Local Government areas.

The Take Away

You should now have a better idea of the stages and opportunities available for you to get involved and have your say on planning and development in Queensland. For the most meaningful results, our recommendation is to participate at the planning stage (rather than at the development stage) as this is the part of the system where the policy (rules) are made. Anyone can have a say and it is possible to shape the outcome. Your power is great... but timing is key as you need to be aware of the consultation periods. Don’t be like the Kerrigans and wait until it’s too late. Make your voice heard early and make it count by making a ‘properly made’ submission at the planning stage. In the end logic and common sense should prevail because planning by nature is a very logical process.

If this article has inspired you to be more involved in planning matters, you can visit the Department of Justice and Attorney-General webpage were a running list of current and past consultation activities is kept.

And of course, if you require assistance to prepare a submission for a planning instrument, or a development application in your neighbourhood, feel free to contact us for assistance or advice.