Buying a heritage property

When many people buy a heritage property they want to know what changes they can make.

A heritage item listing covers the property as a whole including interiors, exteriors and setting. A conservation area listing covers the building exteriors and setting.

The heritage listing does not dictate what you can or cannot change. Instead, listing triggers a process for assessing change. Historic buildings can be changed through this careful process that seeks to maintain the heritage significance of the place. Typically, this process involves a development application where owners propose and seek Council’s approval for changes. For minor works with no adverse impact, a simplified ‘minor works’ application process is an alternative to a full development application. These approval processes are described at Development controls and approvals.   

As each property will have differing features and its own unique history, this careful approval process allows changes to be individually assessed by Council on their merit.

In general, the goal for changes to historic properties is to keep and maintain the original or old features of the place and that new works are sympathetic to and do not overwhelm the old. This maintains the authenticity of listed places that make them distinct. The significant original or old features will differ for each property.

For greater certainty about whether planned works are acceptable, you can:

  1. Arrange a pre-development application meeting with Council as described further below and at: Development controls and approvals.

  2. Alternatively, you can contact a heritage architect or heritage consultant to give you preliminary advice on planned works. Public authorities like councils cannot recommend private consultants. While not an endorsement, Heritage NSW maintains a directory of heritage consultants you may contact at: Heritage consultants directory.

So how do I know what is significant?

To know what is significant ask the real estate agent for a copy of the heritage inventory for the house.

If you are still uncertain, you can seek advice from a heritage architect or a heritage consultant. Professionals experienced in heritage development know the types of developments that are likely to be approved and can give advice on what is significant about the heritage item eg. the garden, the original wood panelling, an original service wing.

What are the rules?

The key controls relating to development of a heritage item or development within a heritage conservation area can be found in Ku ring gai Local Environmental Plan and Development Control Plan which contain the development controls and objectives that guide development and change. It is a good idea to read these to understand the rules for change. In Ku-ring-gai the interiors of heritage items are also listed so changing the configuration and the finishes would require Council approval.

Ku-ring-gai Council does not offer a heritage advisory service. However, if you wish to know the key issues associated with the development of a heritage item or development within a heritage conservation area please apply for pre-Development Application consultation. Council staff will discuss the merits of your development proposal and identify any key issues with the relevant planning controls. The verbal and written feedback provided can help you address any issues with your proposal prior to lodging your application. This is useful as you are only given one opportunity to amend your proposal during the development application assessment process. Using the pre-DA consultation service could save you time, money and alleviate uncertainty.

Types of approvals

If you are uncertain which approval you require please talk to Council’s duty planner. The three types of approval are:

  1. Development application.
  2. Minor works approval.
  3. Exempt development.
Take away message

In summary, if you want to buy a heritage property and you want to make change:

  • Know what is significant.
  • Get heritage advice form a heritage professional.
  • Understand the type of approval you need.
  • If lodging a development application it is strongly recommended you undertake pre development application consultation.

 Common questions

Can I change the bathroom and kitchen?

A new fit-out to a non-original bathroom or kitchen may be done for minor works. If the heritage advisor determines the scope of the works is not minor, they will require a DA. A new fit-out to an original bathroom will require a DA.

Can I do an extension?

Seek advice from a heritage professional on extensions. They can make recommendations on the scope and form of this type of renovation. An extension will require a DA supported by a heritage impact statement.

Can I demolish an original outbuilding?

If the building is significant, it is unlikely the demolition would be supported. It will require a DA.

Can I add a garage to the front of the house?

Garages forward of the front building line (integrated or freestanding) are generally not supported. This will require a DA.

Can I remove a tree?

The removal of a tree that is a threat to human life must be confirmed by a Council inspection and is classed as an exempt development with no DA required.

Any other tree removal requires a DA and approval.

The relevant approvals should be sought from Council before any tree is removed.


Contact the heritage planning team on 9424 0000 or at