Find out if you need a permit to complete works to your heritage place or object, if you qualify for an exemption, and how to make an application.
To make alterations to State heritage listed places and objects, collectively referred to as ‘items’, you will need to apply for approval for those works, or submit an exemption notification if the works are minor in nature and may be exempt from requiring approval.
You will need to apply for approval or submit an exemption notification before you:
- Carry out works on or within the curtilage of an item listed on the State Heritage Register
- Carry out works on or within the curtilage of a place with an Interim Heritage Order (IHO)
- Disturb or excavate any land that might contain archaeological relics
- Visit or enter a protected shipwreck site.
There are various types of applications and permits depending on the nature of your activities.
Under section 57 of the Heritage Act 1977, when a place or object is listed on the State Heritage Register (SHR) or has an Interim Heritage Order (IHO) applied to it, you may not carry out any of the following activities without prior approval.
- Demolish the building or work
- Damage or despoil the place, precinct or land, or any part of the place, precinct or land
- Move, damage or destroy the relic or moveable object
- Excavate any land for the purpose of exposing or moving the relic
- Carry out any development in relation to the land on which the building, work or relic is situated, the land that comprises the place, or land within the precinct
- Alter the building, work, relic or moveable object
- Display any notice or advertisement on the place, building, work, relic, moveable object or land, or in the precinct
- Damage or destroy any tree or other vegetation on, or remove any tree or other vegetation from, the place, precinct or land.
State Heritage Register items are important to the people of NSW and changes to them must be managed carefully.
In some instances, an exemption can be granted for the activities listed above when the works are minor and will have minimal impact on the heritage significance of an item. Review the Standard Exemptions to determine whether your project fits into this category.
Site specific exemptions may apply for your heritage item. Check the item’s details page by searching the State Heritage Inventory (commonly referred to as the SHR).
Complete and submit an Exemption Notification form.
Exemptions are granted under section 57 of the Heritage Act 1977.
If the proposed works do not fit under any Standard Exemption type, then an approval is required before you commence works.
Complete and submit a Works Application form .
Approval to undertake works to a State significant heritage item, or a place with an IHO applied to it, is granted under section 63 of the Heritage Act 1977.
Modification of Approval
Proposals to modify an existing approved Works Application require a Modification of Approval request to be submitted. Reasons for modification include, but are not limited to, minor corrections, clarifications, amendments or additional work.
A Modification of Approval can only be submitted by the original applicant of the Works Application.
Modification of Approvals are granted under section 65a of the Heritage Act 1977.
Complete and submit a Modification of Approval form .
Excavating or Disturbing Land
Approval is required if you are going to disturb or excavate any land in NSW that is likely to contain archaeological remains. For information about preparing Archaeological assessments and the Archaeological Code of Practice, visit the About Archaeology page.
Approval is required if you are going to disturb or excavate any land in NSW that is likely to contain archaeological relics.
Applications must be made and approved prior to excavation commencing. Retrospective permits will not be issued.
For sites listed on the State Heritage Register, a Works Applications is required instead of an Excavation Permit.
Excavation Permits are granted under section 141 of the Heritage Act 1977.
Complete and submit an Excavation Permit Application form .
Variation to an Excavation Permit
Proposals to modify an existing approved Excavation Permit require a Variation request to be submitted. Reasons for variations include, but are not limited to, change in archaeological personnel, change in the scope of the works or change of applicant.
A Variation to an Excavation Permit can only be submitted by the original applicant of the Excavation Permit Application.
A variation to an Excavation Permit is granted under section 144 of the Heritage Act 1977.
Complete and submit a Variation to an Excavation Permit form .
Excavation Permit Exception
In some instances, an exemption can be granted for archaeological excavation, provided it is minor works that have minimal impact on relics of heritage significance.
Review the Schedule of General Exemptions and Exceptions to determine whether your project fits into this category.
- Refer to page 7 of the linked document for Excavation Permit Exceptions.
- Standard Exceptions do not apply where there is potential for impact to Aboriginal Places, objects and/or sites.
An Excavation Permit Exception is granted under section 139(4) of the Heritage Act 1977.
Complete and submit an Excavation Permit Exception form .
Discovery of a Relic Notification
Anyone who believes they have discovered or located a relic must notify the Heritage Council of NSW. This applies to all land in NSW.
Notification of the discovery of a relic is required under section 146 of the Heritage Act 1977.
Complete and submit a Discovery of a Relic Notification form .
Divers are free to visit shipwreck sites and to learn from them. At the same time, it is important to remember that all historic shipwrecks and associated relics are protected by the NSW Heritage Act 1977 and Commonwealth Underwater Cultural Heritage ACT 2018.
Occasionally, good heritage practice means that archaeological excavation of a historic shipwreck may be desirable or necessary. Where appropriate in specific cases, the Heritage Council of NSW can authorise the movement of part or all of the shipwreck by issuing a historic shipwreck permit.
For further information on historic shipwrecks permits please contact the NSW Maritime Heritage Program, Heritage NSW.
Discovery of Historic Shipwreck or Relic
Use this online form to submit a notification of the discovery of a historic shipwreck, or the possession of a historic shipwreck relic.
The notification of a historic shipwreck or relic is required under section 7 of the Commonwealth Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018.
Complete and submit a Maritime Archaeology Site Reporting form .
Permit to enter Historic Shipwreck Protected Zone
A permit is not required to access most shipwrecks and other underwater sites in NSW waters.
There is currently one shipwreck site in NSW that has a protected zone around it. You will need a permit to visit this site:
- M24 (1942) Japanese midget submarine off Sydney (currently open for research and archaeological diving only)
Permits to enter Protect Zones are granted under the Commonwealth Underwater Cultural Heritage ACT 2018.
Complete and submit an application to enter a Historic Shipwreck Protected Zone.
Possessing, Exporting and Importing of Underwater Cultural Heritage
Who owns shipwreck and sunken aircraft artefacts?
Most artefacts from shipwrecks, including all old Dutch shipwreck artefacts, are legally owned by the Commonwealth of Australia under the Commonwealth Navigation Act 2012 and the 1972 Agreement between the Netherlands and Australia concerning old Dutch Shipwrecks, regardless of who may currently have the item in their possession. Under international convention, ownership of sunken military aircraft and vessels resides with the Department of Defence or the military authorities of a relevant foreign county.
What are my responsibilities in regards to artefacts?
All persons must report their possession of protected underwater heritage artefacts under the Underwater Heritage Act. Individuals, businesses, museums and other institutions may retain custody of underwater heritage artefacts providing they comply with the permit requirements of the legislation. Artefacts with certificates issued under the repealed Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 and theWestern Australian Museum Act 1959-1964 must now obtain a replacement transferable permit issued under the Underwater Heritage Act. The Underwater Heritage Act allows the sale or transfer of legally held artefacts from one custodian to another, providing a notification of the transfer is made within 14 days following the transfer of artefacts. Advertisements for sale or auction of artefacts must include the permit number for the artefact. Persons who receive permitted artefacts, following a sale or transfer, must submit an online notification that they have taken possession within 14 days. Custodians should ensure the condition and provenance i.e. the history and origin of the artefact, are maintained. Access to artefacts may also be required for the purposes of re-certification, conservation, research and exhibition.
Can I import or export underwater heritage?
It is illegal to export or import underwater heritage artefacts without a permit issued under the Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018.
- In practice, it is unlikely that a permit to export protected underwater heritage from Australia would be issued to a custodian. Custodians do not have legal title over artefacts and once removed from Australian jurisdiction, the Commonwealth would effectively lose heritage protection and ownership control over the artefacts.
- Export would also require an assessment under The Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986, following the granting of a permit under the Underwater Heritage Act.
- Museums and government institutions may be granted a permit for temporary removal from Australia to another country for the purposes of display, research or conservation of an underwater heritage artefact.
How do I apply for a permit or submit a notification?
Permit applications and notifications can be made directly on the Australasian Underwater Cultural Heritage Database through the following links: