An analysis of the legal framework influencing walking in Australia

Public Health Res Pract. 2023 Mar 15;33(1):32122205. doi: 10.17061/phrp32122205.


Aim: Although walking is a priority in many strategic plans in Australian cities, there is limited understanding of the statutory components for delivering this. Confusion still exists despite substantial evidence about the built environment elements that promote walking and the availability of tools to assess walkability outcomes. This paper examines the characteristics and components of the legal framework that influence the walkability of built environments in Australian states and territories.

Methods: We audited the form and nature of statutory components regulating the design of the built environment and used framework analysis to identify and compare the main statutory instrument/s that address walkability design considerations in each state and territory.

Results: Lawmaking for planning may involve the state/territory parliament, executive, ministers, government departments and/or statutory authorities. The state/territory planning Act is the primary legislation that sets out the framework for the prevailing planning systems. Its relevance to walkability arises from its planning objectives, the legal effect it confers to statutory instruments that support the Act's implementation, and any processes or mechanisms to promote high-quality design outcomes. Most states and territories have developed jurisdiction-wide statutory tools that contain relevant design considerations for walking. These instruments influence walkability through objectives set for planning zones and aspects of development, and through criteria established to achieve the goals. Many jurisdictions use a combination of outcome and rules-based standards to achieve desired design objectives.

Conclusions: The variability in jurisdictional approaches poses challenges, and raises uncertainty, about the scope and strength of legal support for creating walkable environments at the national level. Future policy surveillance and epidemiological analysis are needed to refine the specifications of laws that influence walking in Australia.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Built Environment
  • Environment Design*
  • Humans
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Walking*