Planning for the future of South-East Queensland

By Bill McCredie
Environment & Planning Government Property & Development

In brief

On 11 August 2017, the State Government released the third statutory regional plan for the South-East Queensland region, titled Shaping SEQ. It is based on the interrelated themes of 'grow, prosper, connect, sustain and live', and is the first regional plan to take effect under the new Queensland Planning Act 2016. Special Counsel Rosanne Meurling looks at the new regional plan.

The planning context

The purpose of a regional plan, according to the Planning Act 2016 (the Act), is to 'set out integrated planning and development assessment policies about matters of State interest for particular regions of the State'. Shaping SEQ fulfils this brief through the identification of goals, elements and strategies under each of the abovementioned themes, the spatial delineation of these matters through regional land use categories and the application of these matters at the sub-regional level.

A regional plan occupies an important position in the planning hierarchy under the Act, being the second most important planning document after the State planning policy. In this role, Shaping SEQ will influence the making of planning schemes and designations, and the assessment of development applications. In its implementation, the sub-regional directions in Shaping SEQ will prevail to the extent of any inconsistency with the goals, elements and strategies. The influence of Shaping SEQ will also extend beyond the Act, to the content of Part B of the State Infrastructure Plan and the delivery of a City Deal for SEQ.

The spatial delineation of Shaping SEQ has been facilitated through amendments to the Planning Regulation 2017 (the Regulation), which will regulate development in major development areas and regulate and, in some cases, prohibit, development in the regional landscape and rural production area and the rural living area. For example, reconfiguring a lot in the regional landscape and rural production area continues to be prohibited development unless it falls within a small number of exemptions (eg each lot created is at least 100 ha). There are also restrictions on certain material changes of use in the regional landscape and rural production area and the rural living area ranging from prohibitions to uses requiring impact assessment.

Key outcomes

While it is not possible to do justice to the detail contained in Shaping SEQ in this article, some of the more important matters arising from the document are discussed below.

Shaping SEQ identifies a number of megatrends affecting SEQ and seeks to respond to the challenges and opportunities that they bring. The megatrends identified in Shaping SEQ are increased urbanisation, resource dependency, spatial disadvantage, the impact of new technology, health, ageing and changing housing preferences, the pressures on biodiversity, the effects of climate change and the need for disaster resilience and increasing global connectedness.

The themes of 'grow, prosper, connect, sustain and live' permeate the document, and give it direction and cohesiveness. The themes are best explained by their goals. The grow theme is about sustainably accommodating a growing population, mainly in the existing urban area within higher density living. The prosper theme is about economic prosperity supported by, among other things, major economic areas (comprising the capital city and regional economic clusters) and diverse industries. The connect theme is about the efficient movement of people, products and information. The sustain theme is about promoting ecological and social sustainability. The live theme is about providing better designed communities in which to live, work and play. Each goal is supported by several elements (or outcomes) and strategies (or actions).

The following important matters emerge from the document:

  • SEQ's population in 25 years is projected to be approximately 5.3 million;
  • the population will need more than 30,000 new dwellings each year;
  • 60 per cent of all new dwellings are to be accommodated in the existing urban area;
  • 19,980 hectares have been added to the urban footprint since the previous regional plan, including the areas of Greater Flagstone and Yarrabilba Priority Development Areas, Caboolture West, Finders and Southern Redand Bay;
  • the expansion (greenfield)/consolidation (infill) split across SEQ is defined as 40 per cent expansion and 60 per cent consolidation, with this split further refined at the sub-regional and local government levels;
  • the missing middle housing form (including Fonzie flats, 'plexes', row and terrace housing and medium rise apartments) will assist in the densification and diversification of housing;
  • while Shaping SEQ seeks to identify a 25-year land supply, local government planning schemes are expected to have a rolling 15 year supply of land (that is appropriately zoned and serviced);
  • Shaping SEQ identifies potential future growth areas outside the urban footprint to protect their ability to be used to accommodate long-term urban growth;
  • Shaping SEQ identifies one major development area at Beerwah East, which requires detailed planning to bring forward its development potential;
  • a number of regional economic clusters are identified, which comprise regional activity centres, knowledge and technology precincts and major enterprise and industrial areas;
  • there is an increased focus in Shaping SEQ on integrated land use and infrastructure planning through the State Infrastructure Plan and other planning instruments and on the use of active and public transport;
  • there is an emphasis on affordable living, rather than affordable housing, which takes into account not only the cost of housing but also the costs of living, including journey to work costs;
  • the regional land use categories in Shaping SEQ are described in the same manner as in the previous regional plan – the urban footprint, the rural living area and regional landscape and rural production area; and
  • Shaping SEQ identifies four subregions with similar characteristics being the metro sub-region (comprising Brisbane, Logan, Moreton Bay and Redland), the northern sub-region (comprising Noosa and the Sunshine Coast), the western sub-region (comprising Ipswich, Lockyer Valley, Scenic Rim, Somerset and Toowoomba) and the southern sub-region (Gold Coast). For the metro sub-region, to 2041, the expected population growth is 912,700 persons, with 383,600 additional dwellings and an expansion/consolidation split of 33 per cent/67 per cent. Corresponding information is provided for each of the sub-regions.

Strategies for successful implementation

As with all plans, the implementation of Shaping SEQ is integral to its success. Towards this end, Shaping SEQ identifies a number of strategies, including:

  • the establishment of a SEQ Housing Supply Expert Panel to provide independent expert advice to the government about a range of housing supply matters in SEQ;
  • the implementation of the SEQ Growth Monitoring Program;
  • the integration of Shaping SEQ and the State Infrastructure Plan (Part B); and
  • a commitment to enter into an SEQ City Deal.

Shaping SEQ identifies a large number of implementation actions. These include:

  • unlocking underutilised areas in the urban footprint;
  • a review of SEQ's regional activity centres network to identify priority centres as a focus for infrastructure investment;
  • infrastructure initiatives, such as Cross River Rail and the Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail;
  • the preparation of the SEQ Koala Conservation Strategy, which may include, among other measures, strengthened regulatory protection;
  • the investigation of the delivery of a strategic assessment for SEQ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth);
  • the delivery of the Queensland Housing Strategy and Building Plan;
  • the monitoring of the plan's implementation, including through the SEQ Growth Monitoring Program which will monitor and report annually on the relationship between land supply and development across SEQ; and
  • the monitoring of the measures that matter, including land supply, dwelling growth, housing types, housing density, employment by industry and occupation, changes in travel behaviour, trends in regional biodiversity values, impacts of development on koala habitat, trends in vegetation clearing, the extent of agricultural land and public green space, water health and quality, housing and journey to work costs as a percentage of household income, trends in design quality in SEQ and community perception.

With a review to occur within five-seven years, a new regional plan is envisaged between 2022 and 2024.


Shaping SEQ is a comprehensive document, with a strategic focus based on coordinated themes that permeate all aspects of the document. It seeks to provide guidance and direction at a high level, leaving the detailed implementation to local governments and other agencies. It has a strong focus on implementation, monitoring and reporting. The goals set are ambitious and will challenge those with the responsibility to effect change (including the State and local governments). The monitoring and reporting required by Shaping SEQ will quickly bring into focus the rate of change and the success of the outcomes identified. While monitoring must occur on an annual basis, it is important to remember that the outcomes are sought to be achieved over the long term and while it is necessary to recalibrate as results become available, it is also important to have realistic expectations about the time it will take to implement some of the outcomes sought to be achieved.