How can strategic planning be used to avoid air quality impacts?

Written by Plistina Almeida and Simon Welchman


A common misconception that can lead to intractable land-use conflicts is that air quality impacts do not occur beyond the boundary of a site.  Whilst this may seem like a naive assertion to those with experience in air quality issues, it is common and may stem from a few issues:

  • How the licensing and approvals processes are structured and what they consider and imply
  • Planning schemes that do not recognise existing activities or that do not require reverse amenity issues to be considered.


Two schools of thought are commonly recognised when it comes to approving developments that may have air quality impacts.  These are the outcomes or performance-based approach or the more traditional prescriptive approach.  With respect to the former, a proponent is expected to do whatever is necessary to achieve the outcome.  An example of an outcome based condition is:

Other than as permitted by other conditions of this development approval, odours or airborne contaminants must not cause environmental nuisance at a sensitive place or commercial place.


At locations where performance-based planning is adopted, a development is assessed against pre-established criteria that specify quantitative limits on acceptable levels of usage (Baker, Sipe and Gleeson 2006). However, recognising the specificities of some projects, or rather the uniqueness of some Development Areas, is paramount to ensure good health within the surrounding community while accommodating development.


Performance-based planning is praised for tailoring land use characteristics to site characteristics. This philosophy allows the regulations around planning and development to focus on the outcomes rather than on the establishment of prescriptive and inflexible rules to be followed for approval.


Whilst on the surface, traditional prescriptive approaches provide greater certainty and clarity, they are often inflexible, poorly targeted and can produce perverse outcomes.  The prescriptive approach places the onus on the regulator to foresee potential issues and eventualities and little obligation on the proponent other than strict compliance.  Some still argue that this approach is a more transparent one as the rules are laid down and one just needs to comply in order to receive approval.


Is Strategic Planning a more efficient approach for air quality?

Strategic planning supports (and maybe even fosters) developments with air emissions whilst maintaining the safety of the community. Essentially, strategic planning allows for the blending of traditional and performance-based approaches.  So, for example, activities with minimal emissions may be subjected to a streamlined  pathway.  At the same time certain regions with positive attributes may be prioritised for development of higher emitting activities.


Zoning and Air Quality

Zoning is a form of land-use regulation used by cities and states to direct development within its borders. In Queensland, some zoning tools include Priority Development Areas (PDAs) or Special Activation Precincts (SAP).


The adoption of zoning specifies the land use within a region according to their purposes and potential effects to the community. Industrial Estates, for example, will accommodate activities with potentially significant emissions to air, whilst such activities would be avoided or prohibited in a residential area. Zoning can also prevent encroachment by establishing a buffer zone between industrial emitters and sensitive land-uses.  In some circumstances, the buffer zone can accommodate insensitive land-uses.


How can Katestone help?

By overlaying the spatial impact of an industry or group of industries on the zoning map, Katestone has allowed its clients to develop Strategic Planning frameworks that account for potential air quality impacts.  Such approaches have been adopted in proximity to road tunnel ventilation outlets, mines and industrial zones.


Another useful tool for Strategic Planning that accounts for air quality is an airshed model. Katestone developed the Gladstone Airshed Modelling System and the Townsville Airshed Modelling System to assist industries, government and community to efficiently evaluate new industrial developments. These Airshed Models provide a powerful framework for evaluating the implications of new industrial sources for regional air quality in a manner that is consistent, transparent and reliable.


Strategic Planning that directly accounts for air quality risks is critical to maintaining viable industrial areas, minimising nuisance and ensuring that the community has excellent air quality.



Baker, D.C., Sipe, N.G. and Gleeson, B.J., 2006. Performance-based planning: perspectives from the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Journal of Planning Education and Research25(4), pp.396-409.


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This article featured in the Katestone’s Clear Skies 2021 Winter edition. Click here to view other featured articles.


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