Chief Minister Andrew Barr has flagged changes to streamline the territory's planning system as part of efforts to revive the ACT economy in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
As businesses start reopening and school students return to class amid an easing of social restrictions, Mr Barr said the ACT government's "major focus" was now on repairing the economic damage wrought by the pandemic.
The declaration comes as the latest quarterly budget update showed the territory's bottom line had deteriorated in the months before the coronavirus shutdown.
Following the release last week of figures which showed 8700 Canberrans had lost their job in April, The Canberra Times asked Mr Barr whether the government was open to policy changes to aid the economic recovery.
In a statement, he said the government was preparing reforms in a number of areas, including changes to the ACT's planning system and skills sector.
He said reforms in the planning system would aim to "improve efficiency in the planning approval process" without weakening "necessary" protections.
The ACT government would also support the Commonwealth to "modernise" federal environmental protection laws, under which a number of the territory's largest projects - such as light rail - are assessed.
The ACT government is already conducting a major review of the rules guiding development in Canberra, with a view to simplifying the territory plan.
Pressed for more detail on the changes floated by Mr Barr, an ACT government spokeswoman said it might consider new regulations to "expedite the development assessment processes", particularly for minor government works.
Any moves to streamline the assessment process would be welcomed by the ACT's property sector, which has been pleading with the government to do more to help get planned projects off the ground.
But the move could be met with opposition in the suburbs, with one community council warning against any changes which restrict residents' rights to comment on development in their area.
The Master Builders Association and Property Council have pitched the construction sector as one of the keys to the ACT's economic rebuild, capable of creating much-needed jobs and investment.
But the industry is facing its own crisis of confidence as a result of the pandemic, with the uncertain market conditions casting a cloud over the next wave of construction projects.
The gloomy sentiment has prompted calls for the government to remove regulatory barriers and cut red tape, including the speeding up of development approvals.
The industry has long complained about the ACT's development approval system, blaming lengthy delays in the assessment process for stalling projects.
The ACT Planning and Land Authority has significantly reduced a lengthy backlog of unprocessed applications since hiring extra staff last year. A further 10 staff were added to the authority's development assessment team as part of the first stage of the Barr government's coronavirus support plan.
But while the extra resources have helped to reduce waiting times, fewer than half of applications were processed within the statutory time frame in April.
Master Builders Association of the ACT chief executive Michael Hopkins said in addition to fast-tracking development approvals, the government could temporarily waive lease variation charges to encourage investment.
Mr Hopkins said the government should also speed up the ongoing review of the territory plan.
"The pandemic will place unprecedented pressure on the territory's property and construction sector, with the ACT now in competition with every major Australian city for scarce private sector investment," he said.
"The planning system is fundamental to transforming Canberra's economy into an internationally competitive place to do business."
Residents' groups across Canberra have also been highly critical of the ACT's planning system - albeit for different reasons.
The final report from a long-running Legislative Assembly inquiry into the territory's development application processes, tabled earlier this month, documented residents' frustration at the lack of clarity and transparency in the system, which eroded their trust in decision making.
Inner South Canberra Community Council chair Marea Fatseas said was there wasn't enough detail in Mr Barr's statement to know what was actually being proposed.
But Ms Fatseas said residents would be concerned if changes were made which restricted their ability to provide feedback on nearby developments, particularly on matters such as overshadowing, building heights and green space.
Opposition leader Alistair Coe said problems in the planning and assessment system were "entirely of Labor's making".
"At every turn, the system has become more opaque, slower, more expensive and, I'd say, worse," he said. "There is nobody that seems to be happy with the current planning system, least of all the community."
Meanwhile, the latest ACT budget update showed the Barr government's deficit had grown to $211 million at the end of March quarter, a near tripling of the forecast position.
A report on the update stated the result had not been "materially impacted" by the COVID-19 crisis, as restrictions only started coming into force at the end of March. The financial impact of the emergency would be "significant", the report stated, with declines in tax and GST revenue set to coincide with increased government spending.
Revenue in the March quarter was $112 million lower than expected, while spending was up $44 million.
The jump in expenditure was mainly due to increase spending in health, including on staffing and maintenance.