Publications / Planning and Environment

12 Apr 12
The Flood Commission calls for a uniform approach to planning for floods

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By Stuart Macnaughton, Troy Webb and Jaclyn Rolfe

The Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry (Flood Commission) final report is out and planning schemes across Queensland are set for some change. Planning and Environment specialists Stuart Macnaughton, Troy Webb and Jaclyn Rolfe explore the report findings and implications for planning.

The Flood Commission’s final report (Report) concluded the attention to flood risk in land use planning in Queensland has been ad hoc. To rectify this, the Flood Commission has called for a uniform approach to how flooding considerations are dealt with in planning schemes across Queensland. 

Current holes in the planning system

The Report identified a number of holes in Queensland’s planning system that may have led to the varied approach taken by Councils about how flooding considerations are dealt with in planning schemes and development assessment. The Flood Commission noted that:

  • planning schemes are not currently required to address flooding
  • the boilerplate flood assessment criteria in the State Planning Policy 1/03: Mitigating the Adverse Impacts of Flood, Bushfire and Landslide:
    • only apply where a Council takes steps to adopt a flood event and identify the affected area in its planning scheme
    • are not tailored to local conditions
    • are not required to be incorporated into planning schemes, and
  • flood related assessment criteria are often dispersed in planning schemes and the location of the criteria varies between planning schemes.

Model flood planning controls

In an attempt to fill these holes, the Flood Commission has introduced the concept of ‘model flood planning controls’ (model controls). It has been recommended the Queensland Government introduce the model controls into a state planning instrument (whether it be a state planning policy or the Queensland Planning Provisions). The model controls are recommended to be:

  • mandatory for adoption into new Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (Qld) (SPA) compliant planning schemes, and
  • able to be adapted by Councils for local circumstances. 

The model controls include a:

  • flood overlay map (that identifies areas of known and unknown flood risk)
  • model flood overlay code (with consolidated flood assessment criteria) which is triggered by the flood overlay map, and
  • model planning scheme policy (to provide guidance to applicants about the type of technical flooding information required to support a development application).

The Flood Commission has recommended the assessment criteria for the flood overlay code relate, at the very least, to community infrastructure, commercial development, industrial uses and hazardous materials, filling in a floodplain, access routes and electrical infrastructure where they are located in an area identified on a flood overlay map.

Queensland Government response

Newly elected Premier, Campbell Newman, has promised to fully implement the Report’s recommendations.

The Queensland Reconstruction Authority (QRA) has already gone some significant way to providing draft provisions dealing with flood, with the introduction of its guideline ‘Planning for stronger more resilient floodplains’ (click here). Part 2 of the guideline, though still in draft form, provides examples and guidance on how to draft SPA compliant planning schemes that have regard to flooding impacts.

However, the current approach of the QRA is different to that recommended by the Flood Commission. In particular, the QRA’s guideline:

  • does not mandate the inclusion of flood criteria in planning schemes
  • provides the option of incorporating flood assessment criteria within a flood overlay code or zone code
  • does not provide specific assessment criteria relating to commercial development or electrical infrastructure, but primarily focuses on residential development and community infrastructure, and
  • does not provide a model planning scheme policy to explain what flooding information is required to be submitted with a development application.

For the Queensland Government to fully implement the model controls recommended in the Report there is still some additional work to be done to achieve a uniform response.

What this means for Councils

If the model controls are introduced as a mandatory requirement to achieve a SPA compliant planning scheme, the drafting burden is placed on the Queensland Government as opposed to Councils in the first instance. To ensure local conditions are accounted for, Councils will still need to adapt the model criteria as necessary.

We will keep you updated on how these approaches are reconciled. In the meantime, should you have a question about the changing controls regarding flooding in planning decisions, please contact us.


Focus covers legal and technical issues in a general way. It is not designed to express opinions on specific cases. Focus is intended for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice. Further advice should be obtained before taking action on any issue dealt with in this publication.

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