What is a planning scheme?
  • Last updated:
  • 19 Apr 2022

A planning scheme is an important document that the community, the development industry and governments look to in order to understand a local government’s plan for managing growth and change, including what sort of development that can be expected in a local area.

It sets out the future vision for a local government area in a strategic plan or strategic framework. The vision is the ‘big picture’ part of a planning scheme that maps out the intentions for the area in 20 to 30 years’ time, providing a series of strategies to manage future growth and development.

To help achieve or implement the vision and strategic framework, a planning scheme regulates:

  • what development should occur where - by including each parcel of land in a zone
  • how development should occur - by outlining the rules (codes) against which development must be assessed
  • what assessment process is required - by stating whether a development application is required, and if so, the process to be followed.

A planning scheme seeks to balance competing objectives such as:

  • making sure there is enough land available in the right locations to support community needs (including housing, services and business areas) whilst ensuring natural assets are protected
  • maximising livability of communities by ensuring there is green space, community facilities, places to work and shop and housing options for all
  • Ensuring infrastructure is planned for and used efficiently (roads, pathways, and stormwater drainage)
  • Protecting natural areas and human made features such as heritage buildings
  • making communities more resilient to natural hazards such as floods and bushfires

More information can also be found by referring to the state government's "what is a planning scheme?" fact sheet.


So a planning scheme manages growth and regulates future development within a region…

Untitled Document How does the planning scheme manage growth? How does the planning scheme regulate development? How does a planning scheme affect me? What can and can't a planning scheme do? What is performance based planning?

Click on the links below to find out more.


Planning schemes manage future growth by setting out a future vision for a local council area and include a series of strategies (or a strategic framework) to achieve that vision.

The current planning scheme (Sunshine Coast Planning Scheme 2014) sets out council’s vision for future development in the planning scheme area to 2031.  It includes a strategic framework that defines local growth management boundaries to contain new urban and rural residential development.  These urban growth management boundaries and rural residential growth management boundaries are defined in order to:

  • protect natural and landscape values
  • avoid development on land that is subject to natural hazards
  • protect natural resources and productivity of rural land
  • maintain the identity of individual communities

Urban growth management boundaries also seek to:

  • provide a more compact and efficient urban form that reduces reliance on private vehicles
  • deliver infrastructure and services efficiently

These local growth management boundaries apply and refine the land use categories (Urban Footprint and Rural Living Area) established in the South East Queensland Regional Plan 2017 (ShapingSEQ).

The new planning scheme will set a vision for the Sunshine Coast in 2041.  Like the current planning scheme, it will also reflect the land use categories established in ShapingSEQ and seek to contain new urban and rural residential development to defined growth management boundaries. In doing so, helping to preserve the things we love about our region.


Planning schemes regulate development by determining the types of development that require a development approval, as well as the assessment process to be followed.

"Development" is defined in the Planning Act 2016 and includes:

  • making a material change of use (e.g. a new use or changed use)
  • reconfiguring a lot (e.g. subdivision of land)
  • carrying out operational work (e.g. engineering work, filling, excavation, vegetation clearing, advertising signs)
  • carrying out building work, plumbing or drainage work

Planning schemes may specify that certain development does not require a development approval. In some cases, this may be subject to meeting certain requirements. This is called accepted development.

Where a development approval is required (i.e. for assessable development), the planning scheme identifies the development assessment process to be followed, either:

Code assessable development:

  • applications are assessed against applicable codes only (which may include overlay codes, local plan code, zone code, use codes and other development codes)
  • includes uses that are generally considered appropriate on a particular site, for example, a new warehouse in an industrial estate

Impact assessable development:

  • applications are assessed against the whole of the planning scheme, including applicable codes and the strategic framework
  • includes uses that require further assessment to determine whether they are appropriate on a particular site
  • provides the community with an opportunity to have their say via a public notification process

Planning schemes contain 'assessment benchmarks' which identify the requirements that new development is expected to meet. Typically, assessment benchmarks will deal with:

  • the mix of land uses on a site
  • the type or scale of buildings
  • development requirements, such as landscaping and car parking
  • the way in which potential impacts (like noise or stormwater run-off) should be managed

Planning schemes typically express these assessment benchmarks as 'performance outcomes' and 'acceptable outcomes' within development codes.  Acceptable outcomes provide one solution that is deemed to comply with the corresponding performance outcome.



The Sunshine Coast Planning Scheme 2014 regulates new development (e.g. land use, subdivisions, building work, filling, excavation, vegetation clearing, advertising signs).

While a planning scheme does not affect existing lawful development, it could affect what you can and can't build and develop on your property, what your neighbours can do on their property and what can and can't be developed in your local neighbourhood or places where you live, work and visit.

The planning scheme identifies where future growth and development should occur (including new shopping centres, industrial uses and residential areas) and areas where most forms of development should be avoided (including environmental areas or constrained land). It also sets out the rules for development such as building heights, boundary setbacks and carparking requirements.

The new planning scheme will set the vision for the Sunshine Coast in 2041 and guide growth and development to help achieve that vision. This is why it is important for you to have your say as council embarks on the preparation of a new planning scheme for our region.


The new planning scheme can:

  • regulate new land uses and development
  • set the vision for the region and manage growth
  • ensure there is enough land available for housing, business, community and open space purposes
  • maximise the liveability of our communities
  • ensure planning for land use and infrastructure is integrated
  • protect natural areas and human made features
  • make new development more resilient to natural hazards such as floods, bushfire, landslide and coastal erosion

The new planning scheme can’t:

  • impact existing lawful uses
  • regulate existing or approved development
  • affect existing development approvals
  • apply to development that is exempt (such as certain dwelling houses)
  • make development happen ‘on the ground’
  • address issues covered by other legislation, such as building codes
  • apply to certain parts of the region, such as Caloundra South (Aura) and Maroochydore city centre.

Just like other planning schemes in Queensland, the Sunshine Coast Planning Scheme 2014 is a “performance-based planning scheme”.  This provides some flexibility in how a proposal achieves desired outcomes, recognising that more than one solution may be appropriate.

How this works in practice is that our planning scheme codes include both:

  • overall outcomes and performance outcomes – statements of desired outcomes
  • acceptable outcomes - prescriptive requirements that are “deemed to comply” with a performance outcome

Where an alternative solution to the acceptable outcome is proposed, council must exercise discretion in determining whether a proposal complies with the performance outcomes of a code.  This exercise of discretion, or consideration of each application on its merits, underpins the concept of performance-based planning.

This approach allows for flexibility for unique and emerging circumstances, but also needs to ensure clarity in the planning scheme's intentions.



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