Zoning is a regulatory tool used by local governments to control and guide the development and use of land within their jurisdictions. Through zoning, authorities designate specific areas or “zones” for different types of land uses, such as residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural. The main purpose of zoning is to ensure orderly and sustainable urban development, protect property values, and promote the health, safety, and general welfare of the community.

Key components of zoning

Zoning ordinances

Zoning ordinances, also known as zoning laws or regulations, are the legal frameworks that define and enforce zoning policies. These ordinances specify the permitted uses of land, building height restrictions, density limits, setback requirements, and other development standards within each zone.

Zoning maps

Zoning maps are visual representations of the different zoning districts within a local government area. These maps clearly delineate the boundaries of each zone and indicate the permitted land uses for each designated area.

Zoning districts

Zoning districts are the specific areas within a jurisdiction that are designated for particular types of land uses. Common zoning districts include:

  • Residential (R): Areas designated for housing, including single-family homes, apartments, and townhouses.
  • Commercial (C): Areas designated for businesses, retail shops, offices, and other commercial activities.
  • Industrial (I): Areas designated for manufacturing, warehousing, and other industrial activities.
  • Agricultural (A): Areas designated for farming, ranching, and other agricultural activities.
  • Mixed-use (MU): Areas that allow a combination of residential, commercial, and sometimes industrial uses.

Zoning classifications

Within each zoning district, there may be further classifications or sub-zones that specify more detailed land use regulations. For example, residential zones may be classified into low-density (single-family homes) and high-density (apartments) sub-zones.

Purpose and benefits of zoning

Orderly development

Zoning ensures that land use is planned and orderly, preventing incompatible land uses from being located next to each other. For example, industrial facilities are kept separate from residential areas to avoid conflicts and negative impacts on residents.

Protection of property values

By regulating land use, zoning helps maintain property values and protect investments. Residential areas are safeguarded from encroachment by commercial or industrial activities that could lower property values.

Environmental protection

Zoning can be used to protect environmentally sensitive areas, such as wetlands, floodplains, and natural habitats, by restricting development in these areas.

Infrastructure planning

Zoning assists in the efficient planning and provision of infrastructure, such as roads, utilities, and public services. It ensures that development is aligned with the capacity of existing and planned infrastructure.

Community character

Zoning helps preserve the character and identity of communities by maintaining consistent land use patterns and architectural styles. Historic districts and scenic areas can be protected through specific zoning regulations.

Public health and safety

Zoning regulations promote public health and safety by controlling the location of hazardous activities and ensuring that buildings meet safety standards. Setback requirements and open space provisions contribute to safer and healthier living environments.

Challenges and criticisms of zoning


Zoning regulations can sometimes be rigid and inflexible, making it difficult to adapt to changing market conditions and community needs. This can lead to underutilisation of land and stifle innovation in urban development.


Zoning can contribute to social and economic inequities by segregating communities based on land use and housing types. This can lead to disparities in access to amenities, services, and opportunities.


Zoning regulations can be complex and difficult to navigate, particularly for small developers and individual property owners. This complexity can lead to increased costs and delays in the development process.


Zoning decisions can be influenced by “Not In My Backyard” (NIMBY) attitudes, where residents oppose development projects near their homes, even if such projects benefit the broader community.


Zoning changes, such as upzoning (increasing the allowed density of development), can lead to gentrification, displacing lower-income residents and altering the social fabric of neighbourhoods.

Zoning in Australia

Local government authority

In Australia, zoning is primarily the responsibility of local governments, which develop and enforce zoning ordinances and maps within their jurisdictions. Each state and territory has its own planning framework that guides local zoning practices.

State and territory planning laws

State and territory governments in Australia provide overarching planning laws and policies that local governments must adhere to when creating and implementing zoning regulations. These laws ensure consistency and alignment with broader planning objectives.

Development applications

Property owners and developers in Australia must submit development applications to the relevant local government authority for approval before undertaking any significant development or land use changes. These applications are assessed against the local zoning regulations and planning policies.

Example of zoning in practice

Consider a local government in a growing suburban area. The zoning map designates specific districts for residential, commercial, and industrial uses. A property owner in a residential zone wants to build a small retail shop on their property. They must apply for a zoning variance or re-zoning approval from the local government. The application is reviewed to ensure the proposed use aligns with the community’s planning objectives and does not negatively impact the surrounding residential area. If approved, the property owner can proceed with their development, contributing to the area’s economic growth while maintaining orderly development.


Zoning is a crucial tool for managing land use and development, ensuring orderly growth, protecting property values, and promoting community well-being. Understanding the components, benefits, challenges, and specific practices of zoning in Australia helps stakeholders make informed decisions and navigate the complexities of urban planning.

For more detailed information on zoning and urban planning in Australia, you can visit the Australian Government’s Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts website.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this page is for general informational and educational purposes only and is never intended as financial advice. While we strive to ensure that the content is accurate and up-to-date, it may not reflect the most current legal or financial developments. Always consult with a qualified financial advisor or professional before making any financial decisions. Use the information at your own risk.

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