Heritage Overlays

Places of heritage significance to a local area (called 'heritage places') can be protected by a Heritage Overlay.

Heritage Overlays are part of local council planning schemes. They help protect the heritage of a local area. Heritage Overlays include places of local significance as well as places included in the Victorian Heritage Register. 

Read Heritage listings explained to find out more about the difference between local and state listing.

Identifying heritage places

How are potential heritage places identified?

Most local heritage places are identified through a municipal heritage study, carried out by a heritage consultant. Usually, the community and local historical societies are invited to nominate places of potential heritage significance. These places are then assessed to determine whether the place is significant and warrants state or local heritage protection.

How are they assessed?

Heritage assessments are carried out by qualified and experienced professionals.

Assessment reports usually include a history and description of the place, its condition and integrity, and a Statement of Significance. The Statement of Significance generally identifies 'what' is important, 'why' it is important and `how' it is significant.

What is the role of local councils?

Local councils record and protect places of value to the local community. Heritage places important to a local community are identified within the local planning scheme and protected through a Heritage Overlay.

Councils are responsible for issuing planning permits for the use and development of heritage places under the Planning and Environment Act 1987.

Heritage Overlays and planning permits

Local heritage places are listed in a schedule to the Heritage Overlay in the planning scheme. Places listed in the schedule to the heritage overlay are also shown on the planning scheme map.

Under the Heritage Overlay, a planning permit is required from the council to:

  • subdivide land
  • demolish or remove a building (including part of a building)
  • construct a building (including part of a building or a fence)
  • externally alter a building
  • construct or carry out works
  • construct or display a sign
  • externally paint an unpainted surface
  • externally paint a building if the painting constitutes an advertisement.

Sometimes, external paint controls, internal alteration controls and control over trees may also apply. The Schedule to the Heritage Overlay will identify any such additional controls.

The Heritage Overlay will not always apply to the whole of the land. Refer to planning scheme maps for the extent of the overlay. Property owners and developers are strongly encouraged to discuss proposals with council before committing to a project.

Making changes to a property protected by a Heritage Overlay


Within a heritage area or precinct, the main objective is to ensure conservation of elements that contribute to the area's significance.

Not every building or landscape element will be significant. Removing or altering non-contributory elements or developing these sites is not usually a major concern.

It's important that where development occurs, it occurs in a manner appropriate to the significance, character and appearance of the heritage area.


The Heritage Overlay cannot compel an owner to restore or return his or her property to its original appearance. Some councils may offer grants or loans for restoration works. Contact your council to find out about incentive programs.


The primary purpose of the Heritage Overlay is to protect the heritage significance of a building, place or area. If the heritage place is significant, or if it contributes to the significance of an area, a permit for demolition may be refused.

If a planning permit is refused, you may have this decision reviewed by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Changes that can be made without a planning permit

A planning permit is not required under the Heritage Overlay for routine maintenance and repairs which do not change the appearance of the heritage place.

If the repairs or maintenance involve replacing 'like with like', a planning permit may not be required. A permit is required to carry out works, repairs and maintenance which change the appearance of a heritage place or which are not undertaken to the same details, specifications and materials.  

Insuring buildings covered by a Heritage Overlay

As long as heritage buildings are structurally sound, water tight, secure and well maintained, there should be no difficulty with insuring heritage properties. Premiums should not be any higher than for an unlisted property. Property owners should confirm this matter with their insurer.

Aboriginal heritage places within Heritage Overlay controls

While some Aboriginal heritage places are included in Heritage Overlay controls, broad protection of Aboriginal heritage is provided under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006. The Heritage Overlay should not be relied on for information about the existence of places of Aboriginal heritage value.

Further information

  • Further information about Aboriginal heritage sites and Heritage Overlays is available from the Office of Aboriginal Affairs Victoria or call 1800 762 003.
  • Contact your council for information about local heritage studies, heritagelistings, and planning scheme amendments which apply Heritage Overlay controls to significant properties.
  • Your local council can clarify any planning permit requirements and provide other assistance. Many Victorian councils operate free Heritage Advisory Services. A Heritage Advisor may be able to assist, particularly owners of properties subject to a Heritage Overlay. Some councils also operate other heritage assistance programs.
  • Heritage Victoria and the Heritage Council of Victoria have prepared Heritage Overlay Guidelines for local councils making decisions about the development of heritage places. The guidelines do not replace local heritage guidelines produced by the relevant authority.
  • Applying the Heritage Overlay Practice Note (PDF 620.1 KB) is an expert guideline which provides direction to local councils on the use of the Heritage Overlay. This includes what places should be  included in the heritage overlay, what criteria to use to assess significance, writing statements of significance and drafting the schedule.

Page last reviewed on 7 October 2014

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