Introduction: Realist methods are increasingly being used to investigate complex public health problems. Despite the extensive evidence base clarifying the built environment as a determinant of health, there is limited knowledge about how and why land-use planning systems take on health concerns. Further, the body of research related to the wider determinants of health suffers from not using political science knowledge to understand how to influence health policy development and systems. This 4-year funded programme of research investigates how the land-use planning system in New South Wales, Australia, incorporates health and health equity at multiple levels. Methods and analysis: The programme uses multiple qualitative methods to develop up to 15 case studies of different activities of the New South Wales land-use planning system. Comparison cases from other jurisdictions will be included where possible and useful. Data collection includes publicly available documentation and purposively sampled stakeholder interviews and focus groups of up to 100 participants across the cases. The units of analysis in each case are institutional structures (rules and mandates constraining and enabling actors), actors (the stakeholders, organisations and networks involved, including health-focused agencies), and ideas ( policy content, information, and framing). Data analysis will focus on and develop propositions concerning the mechanisms and conditions within and across each case leading to inclusion or non-inclusion of health. Data will be refined using additional political science and sociological theory. Qualitative comparative analysis will compare cases to develop policy-relevant propositions about the necessary and sufficient conditions needed to include health issues. Ethics and dissemination: Ethics has been approved by Sydney University Human Research Ethics Committee (2014/802 and 2015/178). Given the nature of this research we will incorporate stakeholders, often as collaborators, throughout. We outline our research translation strategies following best practice approaches.