New heritage rules for NSW

Tessa Boer-Mah 8 Dec 2020


  • It has been exciting times in heritage regulation in NSW. As of July this year Aboriginal and Historic heritage regulators were combined into a single department known as Heritage NSW providing a basis for better streamlining of heritage permits.

As of December 1, 2020, there have been some important updates in the processing of historic heritage applications for State Heritage Register (SHR) items and those subject to an Interim Heritage Order (IHO). These changes include:

• A fast track approval pathway for minor impacts • Expanded exemptions (which do not require notification of Heritage NSW)

Fast Track Approval Pathway

There is now a fast track approval pathway which applies to works that have (or have the potential to have) a minor impact on a heritage item.

And just in case you were wondering how fast tracked this can be, last week our client received an exemption that had been turned around in less than three weeks, and this was before the changes had come into full effect!

Expanded Exemptions

Previously, there were only five standard exemptions that did not require notice to Heritage Branch (now Heritage NSW, since 2019). These exemptions included: maintenance and cleaning, repairs, development endorsed by the Heritage Council or Director-General, new buildings or works in compliance with minimum standards and orders.

There are now 20 types of activities/works that you can now receive exemptions for. These range from painting, to upgrade of electricals, to subdivision of non-significant buildings, to the safety and security works. These exemptions will mean that certain types of work will no longer require notice to Heritage NSW, thus streamlining works to State Heritage Register items.

Standard exemptions, however, require three important things: • Works need to be undertaken by professionals, • They do not permit the removal of significant fabric, relics or Aboriginal objects • The proponent must keep records

Professional Input

However, it should be noted that anything done under the standard exemptions must be carried out by people with knowledge, skills and experience appropriate to the work and for most exemptions a heritage consultant is needed.

Do not allow removal of significant fabric, relics or Aboriginal objects

The standard exemptions do not permit the removal of any significant fabric, that is, any physical material of the place/item including elements, fixtures, landscape features, contents, relics and objects which contributes to the item’s heritage significance. Also, as per the previous exemptions the new standard exemptions do not permit the removal of relics or Aboriginal objects.

Records must be kept

In order to undertake works under these exemptions, records must be kept. At a minimum these are to include: • a reference to the item’s statement of heritage significance • a detailed description of the proposed activities/works and how this changes the existing fabric/item • an assessment of whether the activities/works impact the item’s heritage significance • details of any advice received from a suitably qualified and experienced professional • other relevant records e.g. plans, copies of heritage advice received and before and after photos as attachments.

In Summary

The new changes will make it easier to undertake activities and works on State Heritage Register items.

More information on these changes can be obtained here and here.

Also - see list of the new additional exemptions below:

  • Alteration of Non-significance fabric (Standard Exemption 3)
  • Alteration to Interiors of non-significant buildings (Standard Exemption 4)
  • Repair or replacement of non-significant services (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) (Standard Exemption 5)
  • Non-significant telecommunications infrastructure (Standard Exemption 6)
  • Fire safety detection and alarm systems (Standard Exemption 7)
  • Excavation (to expose unground utility services within an existing trench and etc DOES NOT include ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXCAVATION) (Standard Exemption 8)
  • Painting (Standard Exemption 9)
  • Restoration of fabric that forms part of the significance of the item (significant fabric) (Standard Exemption 10)
  • Subdivision of non-significant buildings (Standard Exemption 11)
  • Temporary structures (Standard Exemption 12)
  • Vegetation (Standard Exemption 13)
  • Burial sites and cemeteries (Standard Exemption 14)
  • Signs (Standard Exemption 15)
  • Filming (Standard Exemption 16)
  • Temporary relocation of moveable heritage items (Standard Exemption 17)
  • Safety and security (Standard Exemption 19)
  • Emergency situations and life saving (Standard Exemption 20)
Historic Heritage Exemptions Heritage Permit


Written by

Tessa Boer-Mah