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  • Writer's pictureTouring the Past

Granny Flats and Heritage: what you need to know

Updated: Jan 23, 2021

Over the past several years, urban consolidation agendas have made it far easier to gain approval to construct granny flats, studios, and secondary dwellings in New South Wales. From chic, upscale designs to modest modular versions, such small-scale developments can prove affordable and versatile housing options. One of the factors fuelling this ‘boom’ has been the complying development pathway of the State Environmental Planning Policy (Affordable Rental Housing) 2009 (AHSEPP), enabling applicants to lodge secondary dwelling proposals with a council or accredited certifiers and experience a quicker approval route.

However, for those who own a listed heritage item or are situated in a heritage conservation area, the complying development pathway is not an option.

Are you confused about the heritage status or otherwise of your property? Use the NSW Planning Portal Tool to find out or contact Touring the Past. We can break it down for you.

Granny flats in a heritage conservationarea Sydney
Granny flat developments can offer intriguing possibilities in the cultivation of balance between the historic character of places and contemporary development. (Source: Granny Annexe, <>)

Fear not though, secondary dwellings in heritage contexts can still be viable options.

A 'local' heritage listing requires means that the consent body becomes the relevant council. Approval then comes via the development application (DA) pathway. Yes, it will take longer but no, making heritage and granny flats work need not be a herculean challenge.

It gets a touch more complicated if the property is identified as of 'state' heritage value—in such a case, call now.

Councils, eager for density increasing alternatives to mid and high-rise at both heritage sites and precincts, are more willing to consider granny flat-type developments than ever before. On top of this, we are well-placed to guide you and your designer past any heritage snares.

Granny flats and Heritage Conservation Area Sydney NSW
Households are returning to more traditional modes of multi-generational living. There is no good reason why, with a bit of design ambition, that granny flats developments are not able to harmonise with a neighbourhood's existing character and sense of place. (Source: your garden room, <>)

You will need a Heritage Impact Statement (HIS) and perhaps, some Heritage Design Advice.

Breaking it all down—a granny flat proposal in a heritage setting will require the preparation of a HIS; these are expert-prepared reports, which outline the potential impact of change on the heritage signifiance of a heritage asset.

In the case of granny flat proposals, this often revolves around issues of scale, visibility, and materiality. For instance, the report might deal with the proposal’s perceptibility from the public domain or the way in which it relates via its features and fabric with significant character elements in the surrounding built environment. Ultimately, the HIS offers a recommendation to the consent body about whether a proposal should go ahead or not on heritage grounds and/or if further mitigation measures might need consideration.

Foreboding? It shouldn't be. In our experience, the adaptability and human-scale of secondary dwelling's designs generally provide them with an edge in the necessary process of assimilating within sensitive aesthetic, historical and social contexts.

However, we recommend that applicants or their designers seek specialised built heritage advice at the outset of their project OR once plans are concrete, subject them to a review on heritage grounds before lodging. Engaging in remedial back-and-forth work on a submitted design is where DA's tend to drag on and lead to frustrated aspirations and wasted resources.

Lastly, we are often asked if 'restrictive' heritage controls make the design and cost of a granny flat unfeasible? Our answer is consistent: nope. The widespread belief that heritage management is focused on deterring reasonable change is a misconception.

At heart, all the heritage controls require is the demonstration of a design mindful of its historical/cultural context, in order that what makes a place special can be protected and conserved longterm.

Granny flats at a heritage conservation area Sydney
As with any type of development in a heritage context, issues of siting, orientation, detailing, proportions, texture and colour all come into play. Importantly, this does not necessarily preclude the installation of sleek and contemporary designs. Talk to us to find out what is possible. (Source:

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