How to develop and maintain heritage places

The Heritage Council supports sensitive development and encourages best practice in the conservation of our heritage places.
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Retention and management of heritage places

The retention and management of heritage places has an important role to play in protecting the environment, creating vibrant communities and sustaining local economies.

Retaining heritage places amounts to a substantial environmental and financial saving in embodied energy. It avoids the creation of waste and the need for replacement building materials.

We encourage sensitive development and new compatible uses of heritage places because this is the best way of assuring their future.

Many owners have revitalised their heritage properties into contemporary places that both embrace the heritage significance of the building and provide functional, contemporary living, working and leisure spaces.

If a development or change to a State Registered place is proposed, it is referred by the responsible local government or decision-making authority to the Heritage Council for advice.

In most cases, the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage will deal with the referral on behalf of the Heritage Council however major or sensitive developments are dealt with directly by the Heritage Council.

Owners of heritage places are encouraged to contact us to discuss any changes they are considering. We can provide feedback on ideas and provide practical advice on proposed developments.

Conservation principles

It is important to respect the significant elements of a place when considering making changes or developing it to meet contemporary needs.

These elements help tell the story of a place’s history and its role in the development of this State. These elements may differ in significance and will differ from place to place. The significant elements of a place are identified in the assessment documentation.

If you are considering making changes to a place, here are some basic principles to consider:

  • is the new work easily distinguishable from the old? New work should complement a building's original scale, form and massing, and ensure that the original fabric is easily identifiable.  New work that mimics the original is not considered good practice
  • are the alterations reversible? In some cases, it may be preferable to introduce changes that can be removed
  • am I respecting all significant periods of construction of the place? Often places have been changed over time and certain sections of a place will vary in construction depending on when they were built. These changes are part of the historical development of the place and may contribute to its overall significance.

Read more about developing heritage places by downloading from the below publication list the Guide to Development Heritage Places or the Heritage in Action series that provides case studies of adaptive reuse of heritage places or how owners have restored their residential places.

A guide to developing heritage places is available on the Heritage guidelines, publications, strategies and policies page.

When are development referrals required?

When undertaking certain works for places on the State Register, a development referral is required under the Heritage Act 2018.

The cultural heritage significance of the place must be respected but this does not mean that a place cannot be changed to meet contemporary needs.

Generally, minor works such as maintenance and some like-for-like repairs do not need to be referred. For more information, read What works don’t need to be referred?

Examples of the kind of works that must be referred to the Heritage Council include:

  • alterations and additions
  • construction of new buildings
  • conservation and remedial works
  • demolition
  • relocation
  • excavations
  • re-roofing
  • changes of exterior colour schemes
  • signage
  • interior works
  • subdivision/amalgamation
  • change of use

If you think you need a development referral:

  1. contact a Heritage Officer at the Department
  2. if a development referral is required, we can provide feedback on ideas and provide practical advice on proposed developments. We can also advise where you can find additional expertise from heritage professionals
  3. submit your development referral to the decision-making or determining authority (your local government or the Western Australian Planning Commission)
  4. the referral is forwarded to the Department, or in some cases, the Heritage Council, where it will be considered.

The decision-making authority may also opt to refer building license applications to the Department to ensure consistency with any previous planning approvals.

A proposed development for a privately owned property will need to be formally referred to the Department by the responsible local government prior to planning approval and prior to a building license being issued.

A proposed development for a government owned property will need to be formally referred to the Department by the responsible local government or State Government agency prior to finalisation of contract documents.

Speak to a Heritage Officer, they can provide feedback on ideas and give practical advice on proposed developments.

We have a number of case studies in our Heritage in Action brochures showing how heritage places can be developed. We also explain the benefits of investing in heritage.

What works don’t need to be referred?

General maintenance works and repairs generally do not require referral to us. Below are examples of work that doesn’t need to be referred:
  • Building maintenance that does not involve the removal of, or damage to, the existing fabric of the building or the use of new materials
  • Cleaning that is low pressure, non-abrasive and non-chemical
  • Gardening or landscape maintenance that does not involve a major alteration of the layout, contours, structures, significant plant species or other significant features on the land
  • Repairs, including replacing missing or deteriorated fabric with like-for-like fabric, that does not involve the removal of, or damage to, the significant fabric of the building
  • Replacement of utility services using existing routes or voids that does not involve the removal of, or damage to, the fabric of the building
  • Repainting of the surface of a building in the same colour scheme and paint type if they are appropriate to the substrate and do not endanger the survival of earlier paint layers, and without disturbing or removing an earlier paint layer unless it is chalking, flaking or peeling
  • An excavation, that does not affect archaeological remains, for the purpose of exposing, inspecting, maintaining or replacing utility services
  • Installation of a temporary security fence, scaffold, hoarding or surveillance system that does not affect the fabric of a building, the landscape or archaeological features of the land
  • Signage that:
    • Does not obscure existing signage that has an integral relationship to the land
    • Is temporary and does not damage the fabric of a building
    • Is temporarily located behind a shop window but is not internally illuminated or flashing
    • Advertises that a place is for sale or lease but does not remain on the place for more than 10 days after the place is sold or leased
  • Digging a new grave or the erection of a monument or grave marker of materials, size and form that are consistent with the character of the place.

If you are considering doing work that doesn’t need referral, it is still best to undertake the works according to best practice. The Heritage Council has a range of publications to assist heritage custodians in the ongoing care and maintenance of their properties, available under Useful publications below.

Getting the right advice for heritage development

Each one of our heritage places contains elements that help tell its own individual story.

It may be the surrounding area, the design of a building, the material it was built from, the interior features like woodwork and cornicing, the paint colours or even the landscaping that are physical reminders of the place’s story.

Like all buildings, heritage buildings need regular maintenance and repairs from time to time. Some may also need to change and adapt to meet contemporary needs or new uses. Sensitive development or adaptive reuse is often the best way to ensure a place is used and valued into the future. While sometimes more difficult than building something new, reusing heritage places makes a substantial contribution to sustainable and healthy communities. In addition to preserving our ‘sense of place’, it avoids the creation of waste and the need for replacing building materials.

As the owner or custodian of a heritage building, you might be planning repairs or adaptation but are unsure about how to go about it. We can help with advice or finding an appropriate consultant.


Advice on conserving heritage places is available from the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage or you may wish to engage a private heritage consultant who can offer professional advice. For help finding a consultant, visit our heritage trades and professionals directory, inContact.

An experienced heritage consultant may provide advice and assistance on the following matters:

  • plan repairs, maintenance, colour schemes and conservation work, and find suitably skilled contractors
  • avoid potentially costly mistakes that compromise the heritage significance of the place and possibly its market value
  • understand technical advice from contractors and tradespeople, particularly in cases of conflicting advice
  • plan alterations, additions and renovations that are sympathetic to the heritage significance of the place
  • reinstate missing elements such as fences, landscaping and other lost features and fittings that contribute to the heritage significance of the place

The Heritage Council also produces publications containing practical conservation advice on issues such as painting, rising damp, cleaning stone masonry and creating a maintenance check list. For more information visit our Developing and maintaining heritage places page. 

For more information on any aspect of development affecting State Registered heritage places please contact the Heritage Development team on (08) 6551 8002 or email

Providing universal access to heritage places