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  • Writer's pictureTouring the Past

Notes from the field #1: Subdivision

Updated: Dec 28, 2018

Over the last few weeks Touring the Past has worked on a number of heritage projects involving subdivision. This is hardly surprising given the heightened call for increased urban density and consolidation in metropolitan Sydney. Addressing this subject has encouraged us to provide an overview for owner-developers and others curious about the how and why of subdivision and heritage. It is intended for this to be the first in a series of blogs on fundamental issues in the management of heritage places.

Subdivision heritage Sydney NSW - Touring the Past blog
Subdivision at or in the vicinity of places recognised for their cultural heritage significance needs to be considered on several fronts and expert assistance sought. In the case of larger projects, ascertaining community input is also advisable. (Source: Hill End, NSW, author’s collection)

Read on but remember, this is just the basics; the loose parameters so to speak. Every site needs to be considered within its own context and the hard truth acknowledged that the extent of subdivision desired may not be feasible.

As always, if questions persist or expertise is required, please consult your nearest heritage practitioner (contact).

Can I subdivide my heritage property? Touring the Past Blog
Subdivisions can be of great evidential value and often come to underlie the built character of neighbourhoods. Lithograph subdivision map of Mackenzie’s Ocean View Estate, Bondi, 1928. (Source: State Library of New South Wales, FL3533561)

Is subdivision of a heritage item or a property within a heritage conservation area possible?

Yes. But it is entirely dependent on the nature of the sites’ significance. The key is to engage a heritage consultant who will undertake the hard research yards to develop a substantive and expert ‘Statement of Significance’ or critically review an existing one. This Statement should clearly articulate the elements at the site that comprise its heritage value. Maybe the existing layout and shape of the subdivision is critical to this significance. Or conceivably, its negligible and the surveyor can be let loose.

If you have not already worked it out … the culminating point to this section is – seek good heritage advice in relation to existing and proposed subdivision EARLY in the design process.

Heritage subdivision Heritage Conservation Area Touring the Past blog
Many historic ecclesiastical buildings sit on sizeable allotments. As their ownership and uses change, questions of subdivision and infill building will increasingly arise. (Source: Braidwood, author’s collection)

What principles are guiding heritage consultants and decision-makers when they consider the merits of subdividing heritage listed property?

As in all heritage impact questions, it basically comes down to whether or not a subdivision will be read as diffusing the heritage value of the place. If it does to an unacceptable extent, it is unlikely to be approved by a regulatory body.

Other factors that also come into play include:

  • the compatibility of the the subdivision’s product, the buildings constructed, with the surrounding heritage context. Subdivision solely for the purpose of creating an empty lot will rarely fly – the ultimate plans for the subdivision, even if preliminary, need to be communicated;

  • the important issue of curtilage – the space around a heritage item required for its significance to be maintained;

  • the visual and historical relationship between the primary item and its contributory elements, such as outbuildings, landscape qualities, fences and other designed/natural features; and

  • the avoidance of overcrowding and allotment fragmentation.

Heritage subdivision Touring the Past Blog
In 2006 the Land and Environment court knocked back an attempt to subdivide the extensive grounds of this Arts and Style Craft mansion in Wahroonga. The court’s reasoning, amongst other things, rested on the disruption to sight lines from the public domain to the site and the erosion of the primary dwelling’s visual curtilage. (Source: Craignairn, Wahroonga, Federation-House, <>)

What heritage advice about subdivision can I get right now for free?

Hmmm that’s audacious. But here are a few pointers:

  • avoid obscuring views from the public domain to important elements of a heritage site, for example, a character defining façade;

  • try to ensure that the main lot retains the key heritage attributes which underscore its overall significance of the item and/or area;

  • subdivision should avoid the demolition or removal of anything which actively contributes to the heritage value of a place. Always consider an adaptive re-use strategy first; and

  • new subdivisions should demonstrate an appropriate level of respect for the prevailing rhythm of the streetscape.

If you want to discuss the specifics of your heritage subdivision project or really, anything heritage related, please do not hesitate to get in contact with us. We will give you the lay of the land and assist you in negotiating all those pesky heritage snags.

Can I subdivide a heritage property? Touring the Past blog
A successful large-scale subdivision – the residential development of the former Lidcombe Hospital, c 2004. Ultimately the NSW Land and Environment Court found that the applicant had planned the rollout of roads, utilities and residences in a manner which recognised and was sensitive to the heritage value of the hospital. The Commissioner stressed the ‘reasonable accommodation’ and general balance between the adaptive-reuse of the site and its institutional character. (Source: extract from SixMaps)


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