Environment Law in the Northern Territory

Planning scheme amendments

What is the Northern Territory Planning Scheme?

The Northern Territory Planning Scheme is a statutory document that sets out planning objectives, zone tables for zoned land, area plans and detailed guidelines for land use planning and development.  The Northern Territory Planning Scheme mandates prohibited and permitted development on land and whether development consent is required.

Applying to amend the Planning Scheme

A person may make a request in writing to the Minister for Lands, Planning and Environment for a planning scheme amendment. Fees apply to the lodgement and advertisement of a planning scheme amendment which are published on the website of the Department of Lands and Planning. The Minister has the power to exercise his or her discretion to waive the fees.

Once the Minister for Lands and Planning has received an application for a planning scheme amendment, the Minister may do one of the following:

  • if the proposal is “not so significant” that it would require exhibition, decide to amend the planning scheme and publish a notice in the Northern Territory Government Gazette that the Minister has amended the planning scheme and the make available the written reasons for the Minister’s decision
  • decide to continue considering the planning scheme amendment by placing it on public exhibition
  • refuse to grant the planning scheme amendment

Role of the Planning Commission

In circumstances where the Planning Commission prepares an integrated strategic plan, guideline or set of assessment criteria that affects the NT Planning Scheme, the Minister is to review such activities as if they were a request for a planning scheme amendment using the same procedure outlined in this fact sheet.

Public exhibition of a Planning Scheme Amendment

If the Minister decides to place the planning scheme amendment on public exhibition, the proposal is exhibited for a minimum of 28 days starting on the day the notice is first published in the newspaper. The Minister must also request the applicant place a notice on the land to which the planning scheme amendment relates advising the public of the details of the proposal for the entire 28 day period. The planning notices for planning scheme amendments are available from the Department of Lands, Planning and Environment website at ‘Development Applications Online‘.

Submissions to a Planning Scheme Amendment

Members of the public are entitled to make written submissions relating to a planning scheme amendment within the 28 days it is on public exhibition. Submissions should be sent to the address specified in the notice.

The Minister must also notify a local Council of any proposed planning scheme amendment.4 Your submission is made to a ‘reporting body’ which is the Development Consent Authority or a person or panel appointed by the Minister. Unlike development applications, there are no criteria specified in the Planning Act that the Development Consent Authority or the Minister must consider before deciding whether to approve a planning scheme amendment.

In order to make a submission relevant, it should address whether or not the exhibited planning scheme amendment is consistent with planning policy objectives for the area and the Northern Territory. For example, a proposal to rezone land for rural residential purposes may conflict with an area identified for environmental protection under the Litchfield Planning Concepts and Land Use Objectives. This policy document is a ‘referenced’ document in the Northern Territory Planning Scheme.

Hearing of a planning scheme amendment

The reporting body must conduct a hearing to consider any submissions and invite all persons who made submissions to appear before it. The reporting body is the Development Consent Authority when the proposal is within one of its divisional areas. The Minister may also appoint the Development Consent Authority to be the reporting body when the proposal is outside one of the divisional areas. Determinations for planning scheme amendments can be viewed at the Department of Lands, Planning and Environment website.

Any hearing must be conducted with a minimum of formality and in a “manner that ensures procedural fairness”.

The hearing is an opportunity to present your argument in person to the Development Consent Authority (or reporting body). The hearing usually takes place at one of the monthly meetings of the Development Consent Authority.

The Minister may issue a written request to the Development Consent Authority (or reporting body) to “carry out” consultation with certain persons, and the manner in which those persons will be consulted. Such a request may include consultation with the Northern Territory Environment Protection Agency.

Following the hearing into any submissions received or consultation required to be carried out by the Minister, the Development Consent Authority (or reporting body) must provide a written report about issues raised in the submissions, the issues raised at the hearing and during any consultation and “any other matters” the reporting body consider the Minister “should” take into account when considering the proposal. The reporting body then provides the report to the Minister.

The Minister may also request any other person or body to provide a written report to the Minister about relevant matters regarding the proposal or anything referred to in the reporting body’s report.

Decision on planning scheme amendment

The Minister is the decision-maker regarding planning scheme amendments. After receiving a report from the Development Consent Authority, the Minister may then amend the Northern Territory Planning Scheme, alter the proposal or refuse to amend the planning scheme. The Minister must publish a notice in the Northern Territory Government Gazette stating that:

  • the Minister has amended the planning scheme
  • the number or title given to the planning scheme amendment
  • the place where copies of the planning scheme amendment are available for purchase or inspection

The planning scheme amendment commences on the date it is published in the Gazette. The Minister’s written reasons for deciding whether to approve or refuse the planning scheme amendment must be made available for purchase or inspection by the public.

Appeal Rights – planning scheme amendments

There is no right to appeal a decision made by the Minister to either amend or refuse to amend the planning scheme. However, if you believe the Minister or the reporting body has not complied with the procedure for amending the planning scheme, a judicial review of the decision may be possible. Please contact the Environmental Defenders Office if you would like to find out more information about your appeal rights.

Appeal Rights – exceptional development permits

There is no right to appeal a decision made by the Minister to either grant or refuse to grant an exceptional development permit. However, if you believe the Minister or the reporting body has not complied with the procedure for determining the exceptional development permit, a judicial review of the decision may be possible. Please contact the Environmental Defenders Office if you would like to find out more information about your appeal rights.

When is environmental impact assessment required?

If a proposal is likely to have a significant impact on the environment the proposal may be assessed under the Northern Territory Environmental Assessment Act and Environmental Assessment Administrative Procedures.  Read our Fact Sheet on ‘Environmental impact assessment‘ for more information.