Development at heritage sites

Historic heritage places and built fabric

ACT Heritage provide assistance to property owners to ensure that places under their care and ownership are protected and managed to provide the best possible long-term conservation outcomes for the community, while also balancing the individual requirements and needs of current property owners.

Owners of heritage places are custodians for the present community and for future generations. We appreciate the responsibility property owners have and the work they undertake in caring for and maintaining these places on behalf of us all.

In recognition of this, assistance is provided through free architectural and conservation advice from ACT Heritage and the independent Heritage Advisory Service, and through financial assistance via the annual Heritage Grants Program.

We aim to ensure that owners’ experiences in managing any proposed changes or developments to their place are positive and that we work collaboratively and productively with property owners to achieve this.

We encourage you to contact us early in the process of any proposed works, to ensure clarity and certainty from the outset, avoid any potential delays and limit impacts to heritage significance.

Registration allows sympathetic development of heritage places through an approvals process. This process follows the usual development application process prescribed by the planning and land authority for any works or development requiring approval in accordance with the Planning and Development Act 2007. Further information about this process is available at http://www.actpla.act.gov.au. The authority will automatically forward your application to the ACT Heritage for advice as part of the assessment process. Providing that sufficient information has been submitted, assessment will be undertaken within the same timeframes as for non-listed places and does not impose any additional fees.

Usually, only changes affecting the exterior facade will require approval. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, particularly where internal features are considered to be of sufficient heritage significance to warrant protection. Some works which are otherwise exempt under the Planning and Development Act 2007 require approval if they are works to a heritage listed place (e.g. solar panels, pergolas, windows and driveways). It is recommended that you contact ACT Heritage for advice on proposed work, whether or not you think a development application is needed. This advice is free and can avoid problems after works commence.

To September 2014 the Council has supported 92.5% of development applications for heritage listed places in the ACT.

Proposed changes which negatively impact on heritage significance will only be permitted where it is proven that there is no feasible or prudent alternative.

Penalties apply for works which diminish the heritage significance of a place or object. Some exceptions apply where approval has been obtained.

Heritage Guidelines

Heritage guidelines are statutory instruments made under the Heritage Act 2004 that provide information about whether or not certain works are appropriate for the identified heritage values of a place.

Heritage guidelines have been developed for Garden City and other residential precincts and are available in conjunction with the register entry for the place on the Heritage Register.

In some cases, the ‘Specific Requirements for the Conservation of the Precinct’ are included within the registration citation. These requirements were written under previous legislation and are taken to be heritage guidelines for the purposes of the Heritage Act 2004.

Where heritage guidelines have been made, they directly affect the advice provided by the Council to the planning and land authority on any development application.

For further clarification on the guidelines, or additional information about any proposed works or development, please contact ACT Heritage on 13 22 81 or the Heritage Advisory Service on 6295 3311.

Conservation policies and guiding principles

The Council has prepared a number of conservation policies and guiding principles to assist property owners with some specific proposed changes and development. These are not statutory instruments, but may be useful guiding tools for all heritage places. Policies and principles have been prepared for:

Heritage Advisory Service

Free heritage and architectural advice is available for heritage owners and prospective purchasers. The Heritage Advisory Service provides guidance on works, alterations and additions, including renovating or extending a heritage place. The service is provided by Philip Leeson Architects Pty Ltd. This is an independent service supported by the ACT Government. You can contact Philip Leeson Architects on (02) 6295 3311 for a free appointment either on site or at their offices in Turner.

Archaeology (non-built fabric including Aboriginal sites)

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

All Aboriginal archaeological material, and historical archaeological material of significance, is protected under the Heritage Act 2004. Penalties apply when any development work diminishes the heritage significance of a registered or nominated place or object or damages an Aboriginal place or object. Exceptions apply where approval has been obtained.

In some cases, such as greenfield sites, the presence of archaeological material is unknown. In other cases, archaeological fabric may have already been identified as being present and/or having heritage significance.

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.

A cultural heritage assessment is required in the first instance, to understand the site’s historical background and context, and any likely subsurface remains. A cultural heritage assessment may indicate the need for further investigation and excavation. The Council’s approval is required prior to any subsurface testing.

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. 

A report on the findings of excavation must be submitted, and an SHE provided to the Council. The Council needs to provide its approval for the SHE prior to any work being undertaken. The Council may impose certain conditions in giving its approval. An SHE would usually include detailed information about the works to take place, the likely impact of those works on any heritage sites, ways to minimise these impacts, and a protocol for unanticipated discovery of Aboriginal or other archaeological sites.


A development application then needs to be submitted to the ACT Planning and Land Authority as part of the usual planning and development process. The Council must provide advice about development approval under the Planning and Development Act 2008 within 15 working days. Development approval is obtained from the ACT Planning and Land Authority.

The Council has prepared a series of policies to assist with processes related to archaeological works and Aboriginal heritage.

Cultural Heritage Reporting Policy

On 9 April 2015 the ACT Heritage Council endorsed the Cultural Heritage Reporting policy (PDF 1MB). The Policy will come into effect on 1 July 2015.

The Policy reflects amendments which were made to the Heritage Act 2004 in September 2014. In particular, the Policy helps clarify the important changes which streamline processes for early investigative works at proposed development sites through the introduction of Excavation Permits and Statements of Heritage Effect.

The Policy aims to provide a clear outline of the ACT Cultural Heritage Assessment and reporting process and the requirements for information submission at each stage. The Policy is generally concerned with matters of process, content, style, format and submission.

Natural heritage places

A number of natural heritage places are entered in the ACT Heritage Register.

As with any place entered in the ACT Heritage Register, advice needs to be sought from the Council prior to undertaking any works which might impact on the heritage values of a natural place entered in the Register.

Consultants and trades directory

The ACT Government has compiled a list of heritage consultants and trades people who provide services for heritage places.

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