17 November 2015

RELATED expertise

Owners and developers of heritage-listed properties in the Australian Capital Territory can now undertake minor development under a very much streamlined approval process. Changes to procedures introduced by the ACT Government in September, now in effect, allow owners of heritage sites to pursue minor developments without a development application (“DA”) if, in the opinion of the ACT Heritage Council, the development proposal is of no significance to the existing heritage values of the site. In effect, some of the ACT Planning and Land Authority’s (“ACTPLA”) power and decision-making authority has been taken away and instead placed into the hands of the Heritage Council.

Moulis Legal’s Daniel Moulis provides a summary of the changes.

Too much red tape for non-invasive development

Prior to the changes, an owner was required to submit a DA for minor works if the development was proposed on a site listed on the Heritage Register, or was subject to a heritage agreement. A complete DA process was required even where the proposal did not affect the heritage values of the site, and would have been entirely exempt from requiring development approval under the standard exemption provisions if undertaken on a non-heritage property.

Heritage property owners therefore needed to prepare and lodge entire DAs and incur costly lodgement fees for proposals which were of no significance to the heritage values of the property. These DAs needed to be fully assessed by ACTPLA and, on referral, by the Heritage Council.

Such DAs would also usually be notified to the public to provide opportunities for comment and appropriate response by ACTPLA. The entire process of community consultation and approval caused cost, delay and uncertainty for heritage property owners, and restricted many owners from pursuing even minor development on their property (such as internal building alterations, exterior building surface refinishing, replacing or repairing damaged structures, or resealing driveways and car parks).

Exempting works where heritage is unaffected

Under the new rules, a DA will be completely exempt, and the owner will not be required to submit a DA, if the Heritage Council is of the opinion that the development:

  • will not diminish the heritage significance of the place or object;
  • is in accordance with heritage guidelines; and
  • is in accordance with any previously approved conservation management plan, permit, or statement of heritage effect.

Owners of heritage sites will no longer need to submit DAs for minor works, nor will they be required to pay the often substantial DA fees or await the lengthy and uncertain process of approval from ACTPLA and the Heritage Council.

Re-painting a landmark heritage building such as (for example) the ANZ Bank building along London Circuit would now be exempt from a DA process if the Heritage Council advises ACTPLA that the works do not diminish the building’s heritage significance. Likewise, carrying out internal office refurbishments within (for example) the Callam Offices in Phillip, or replacing any decaying external structures, would be DA exempt if in the Heritage Council’s opinion the works would not diminish the building’s heritage value.

Overall, the approval processes for works on heritage properties have been “streamlined”, and a large regulatory burden for heritage property owners has been removed going forward.

Moulis Legal’s property law team advises Australian and international businesses on the acquisition and sale of commercial property, major leases, development approvals, and land development contracts. For more information, please contact Daniel Moulis on +61 2 6163 1000 or

This memo presents an overview and commentary of the subject matter. It is not provided in the context of a solicitor-client relationship and no duty of care is assumed or accepted. It does not constitute legal advice.

© Moulis Legal 2015