Protecting the bush 'front and centre' in new planning strategy

Canberra must contain its urban sprawl or risk losing its status as the bush capital, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has warned.

Mr Barr used a mid-term speech on Monday to foreshadow the release of his government's long-awaited planning strategy refresh later this week.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr. Mr Barr says if Canberra keeps growing, it will eat into the unique bushland surrounding the city.    Photo: Karleen Minney

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr. Mr Barr says if Canberra keeps growing, it will eat into the unique bushland surrounding the city. Photo: Karleen Minney

He said the strategy would "step through the choices we face as a community about our city's future growth".

"There is a simple reality that if keep growing outwards the way we have in the past, this urban sprawl will significantly - and I mean significantly - eat into the unique bush and grassland environments that surround our city. This will happen in the next couple of decades," Mr Barr told the crowd at Ainslie Art House.

"If we want to protect what is unique about Canberra, if we want to maintain the great natural setting that our community values, then we need to focus instead on our CBD, our town centres and dedicated major transport corridors to accommodate more of our city's future growth."

However for this to work, Mr Barr said buildings needed to be of a high quality in both their construction and design.

He also said there had to be equitable access to public and green spaces.

"This is essential to the good life we want to maintain in this city," Mr Barr said.

"Good building design - design that is sustainable, inclusive, liveable and dare I say even a little bit stylish - has to be a focus for government but importantly has to be a focus for industry as we continue to grow."

Asked afterwards, Mr Barr said this was not a new direction for the territory and that increasing density in town centres had been a government policy since 2004.

"The point I've made is you can't sprawl outwards forever, we'll run out of land and ... the need to protect bushland is front and centre of the planning strategy," Mr Barr said.

"When you think about the future, we're not going to go west of the Murrumbidgee in the Tuggeranong Valley, we're not going to build in Kowen Forest out on the extreme north-east of the territory.

"Our future greenfield development is the Molonglo Valley and those areas between Weston Creek in the south and Belconnen in the north, the balance of Gungahlin and the Ginninderry development. That's about it. You don't have any more land so it's got to be in the CBD in the town centres and on the transport corridors. "

His comments come days after an ACT Climate Council report was tabled in the Assembly expressing similar sentiments.

The council said there was an "urgent need to address possible unsustainable building and urban development going on across the city which may lead to high emissions and low resilience" in its latest annual report.

Council chair, Professor Barbara Norman said with the current pace of development and urban renewal going on in Canberra "it's incredibly important to get the policy settings right".

"It's not that we're getting it wrong right now but we want to focus on getting it right in the future," Professor Norman said.

That includes re-examining building construction processes, looking at the kinds of training available and retrofitting the city with green energy.

Professor Norman said after transport emissions, emissions from the built environment would be the next hurdle for the ACT to overcome on the road to zero net emissions by 2045.