Approvals processes for archaeological works in the ACT

Approvals processes for archaeological works in the ACT

Aboriginal and historic heritage material may be found on ground surfaces and within sub-soil profiles throughout the ACT.

Heritage legislation in the ACT aims to protect and conserve significant heritage places and objects, and also provides protection for all Aboriginal places and objects. It is an offence under the Heritage Act 2004 (the Act) to damage an Aboriginal place or object, or to diminish the heritage significance of a place or object, unless in accordance with an approval issued by the ACT Heritage Council (the Council).

Approval mechanisms to enable works to occur at certain sites, particularly Greenfield and Brownfield development sites, require a staged process of research, assessment and planning to ensure that these places are managed in accordance with community expectations.

Under the Act, there are four key approvals which may apply to enable ground disturbance works to occur at sites which may have archaeological significance including Aboriginal heritage places:

  • An Excavation Permit issued by the Council;
  • A Statement of Heritage Effect approved by the Council;
  • Development Approval under the Planning and Development Act 2007; and
  • A Conservation Management Plan approved by the Council.

Application forms for an excavation permit, approval of a Statement of Heritage Effect (SHE) and approval of a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) are available on the ACT Heritage website. Development approval is obtained through the ACT planning and land authority.

The Council must consider an application for approval of a SHE or CMP, and for issuing an excavation permit as soon as practicable after receiving the application. The Council must provide advice about development approval under the Planning and Development Act 2008 within 15 working days.

Process for undertaking archaeological works

Cultural heritage assessment

The first step in any archaeological or ground disturbance work is to prepare an initial cultural heritage assessment for the development footprint, to understand its historical background and context, and any likely archaeological or subsurface remains. A cultural heritage assessment will comprise a desk-top study and a pedestrian transect survey.

This assessment may indicate the need for further investigation, through a range of mechanisms which might include artefact analysis, oral histories, community consultation, and/or further historical, environmental or other research. Recommendation for further investigation may also include the need for archaeological excavation.

Cultural heritage assessments must be provided to the Heritage Council for endorsement.

In some cases the cultural heritage assessment may lead straight to a Statement of Heritage Effect, by-passing the need for Excavation Permit.

Excavation permit

Where a Cultural Heritage Assessment recommends further investigation by way of archaeological excavation, an application must be made to the Council for their issuing of an excavation permit. The cultural heritage assessment may form the basis of the application. The application must outline the excavation methodology to be used.

Archaeological excavation would be carried out to further determine the nature and extent of any Aboriginal site or heritage significance which is anticipated as a result of the cultural heritage assessment.

The outcomes of an archaeological excavation are likely to form the basis of a Statement of Heritage Effect.

Statement of heritage effect

A Statement of Heritage Effect (SHE) should be prepared for the Council’s approval, clearly explaining the full nature of the proposed works at the site and their likely impact on any archaeological or subsurface material. Ways of minimising any risk of damage to the site should be identified in the SHE. This may include a protocol for any unanticipated discovery of Aboriginal sites or other places or objects of significant heritage, including historic heritage. Such protocol ensures that a plan is in place to respond to the discovery of Aboriginal items or items of heritage significance during construction works and activity.

The results of excavation and/or the cultural heritage assessment will largely determine how the proposed works at the site should proceed.

In approving a SHE, the Council may impose conditions associated with its approval. Conditions might include requirements for archaeological monitoring while works are occurring, surface survey and collection and/or other mitigation strategies. A protocol for unanticipated discoveries will form a part of any approval.

Development application

An approved SHE and any conditions required by the Council may form part of a development application (DA) to the ACT Planning and Land Authority, to enable the works to commence.

Where a protocol for unanticipated discovery has not already been prepared, it may form part of conditions attached to the approval of a DA.

Conservation Management Plan

A Conservation Management Plan (CMP) may also be prepared, to determine the long term conservation and management of the site. In some cases a CMP may support a DA.


For more information please contact ACT Heritage on 13 22 81.

Please note that the material in this information sheet is provided for general information only, and should not be relied upon for the purpose of a particular matter covered by the Heritage Act 2004. The Act is available at