What the heck does “heritage listed” mean?

Throughout my work, I often see and hear a lot of misinformation about what “heritage listed” means,  what the process of heritage listing involves and what the implications are for the owner of a property. This is not really surprising, as it is quite confusing! I’ve been in the game for close to 15 years now and I still sometimes struggle to remember all the details!

What is Heritage?

Before I go down the rabbit hole of heritage listing, it is important to clarify what is even meant by “heritage”.

Heritage can be generally defined as anything that is, or will be, inherited. Heritage is anything that has been passed down from previous generations and is considered to be of importance to the history of a particular group of people, a community, state, country or the entire world. This can include buildings, places, natural environments, valued objects, qualities, cultural traditions and/or languages. A place, object or practice can also be recognised to be of heritage significance because it demonstrates or provides evidence of a particular aspect of our history, that is, they help tell the story of “how things used to be” and why they are how they are now. 

The main point to take from this is that heritage is not just old buildings!  This blog post however IS focussed on buildings and places (e.g. parks, memorials etc), rather than the other types listed above, as that’s my area of expertise.

What does “Heritage Listed” or “Heritage Registered”  mean? 

In order to try to protect our heritage buildings and ensure they are around to be passed on to the next generation, a range of legislation  exists to help enforce it. There are also non-statutory (that is, non-legally enforceable) lists of important buildings and places.

To be able to protect places, they need to be selected carefully, rather than collected in an ad hoc manner and they need to be recorded somewhere, so we know which ones are protected. As it’s not feasible to list all places and there needs to be some consistency to which places are selected for protection, there are criteria which places must be assessed against, to ensure that they meet a particular standard. In theory, this means that only the best examples of our heritage buildings are protected. 

These places that are selected to be protected by legislation for their heritage values, may be recorded on a list, which is generally called a heritage register. These lists are giving way to mapping-based identification however, where heritage places are identified on an “overlay” (a special mapping layer). I have absolutely no idea how the technical side of this works, but what it looks like in practice generally is that you bring up a mapping site, click on a particular property and a list of “flagged” information about that property is shown, including that it is covered by heritage protection. 

Whatever the method or recording buildings, whether on a list or an overlay, places protected in this way are often referred to as “heritage registered” or “heritage listed”. 

In addition to actually recording what places are included, the heritage register or mapping overlay often contains information about each heritage place that helps to understand why it is important and which of its attributes are of particular significance (how it meets the criteria for inclusion). The information may include its history, why it is important, description, site plan and a heritage boundary which encloses all of the structures and areas that are protected. This is important information to know, especially when deciding what development is allowed on the site. For example, if a place is on the heritage register because it is an outstanding example of a particular architectural style (e.g. Art Deco), then we don’t want to approve work on the house that will change its style dramatically and destroy what makes it important.

What Types of  Heritage Protection are There?

There are various types of heritage protection for buildings and various heritage registers/lists. Depending on what degree of importance a place has, will determine what level of heritage protection it is eligible for. It may be so rare or outstanding in some way, that it is important on an international scale, or can help tell the story of international history. At the other end of the scale, a place may only be of importance to a local community, such as within Brisbane. Places may also be entered in multiple registers depending on their level of significance.  I’ve provided an overview of all the different levels of protection below, but the main types of heritage listing that most people will be involved in or concerned with (including me) are state and local heritage registers.

Levels of Heritage Protection:

  • World
  • National
  • State
  • Local
  • Organisational

World Heritage List 

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) maintains a World Heritage List containing places of historic or natural heritage importance to the international community. Examples include the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, Australian Convict Sites, Gondwana Rainforests, the Sydney Opera House and the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne (the site of two international exhibitions). You can view the Australian sites on the World Heritage List here: https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/au.

National Heritage List 

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment of the Australian Federal Government maintains a National Heritage List containing places of historic or natural heritage importance to the nation. For example, the site of the first Government House, the Australian War Memorial, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Qantas Hanger at Longreach. You can view all the places here: https://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/places/national-heritage-list.

Commonwealth Heritage Register

This list is also managed by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment of the Australian Government, but includes only places owned or controlled by the Australian Government. This includes all Post Offices, Defence/Military Sites, lighthouses, the National Gallery of Australia and Kirribilli House. You can view a list here: https://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/places/commonwealth-heritage-list.

Queensland Heritage Register 

Each state also has its own heritage register to record places of heritage significance to the state. Our state register is called the Queensland Heritage Register (also referred to as the “State” Heritage Register) and is managed by the Department of Environment and Science of the Queensland Government. It is established as part of the requirements of the Queensland Heritage Act 1992. For places to be included on this register, they must be of importance to the people of the whole state or help tell the story about the history of the state. There is a ridiculous number and variety of places on this list and it includes railway stations throughout Queensland, Queensland State Schools, bank buildings, hospitals, churches, war memorials, buildings or houses that demonstrate the history or development of the state (e.g. farm homesteads, hotels, masonic halls etc) or houses associated with people that played significant roles in Queensland’s history (politicians, pioneers etc).  You can search for a place here (by name or location): https://apps.des.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/ or browse the entire list here: https://apps.des.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/results/.

National Trust Register

This is a list of places compiled by the Queensland Branch of the National Trust of Australia. It is not a statutory list, so doesn’t offer the places on it any legal protection, but it does help identify places and raise knowledge about them, which can aid in any future campaigns to save a place. That said, it includes many places that may be on other heritage registers that do have legal requirements, such as the Queensland Heritage Register or Brisbane City Council Heritage Register. In fact, that National Trust list of heritage places was used as the basis for the Queensland Heritage Register when it was introduced in 1992. I can’t really explain it any better than they have on their website though, so here is their summary:

This Register was stablished in the 1960s to foster public awareness of heritage places. It includes individual buildings, precincts, natural environment places and culturally significant artefacts. Being entered in the National Trust Register does not attract any legal protection for a place, nor does it put the owner of a listed place under any legal obligation. Since the introduction of heritage legislation in Queensland, fewer places have been entered in the NTAQ Register.

You can view this list here: https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/ntqld-register/.

Local Heritage Protection (by Local Government Authorities / Local Councils)

Under the Queensland Heritage Act 1992, local governments (e.g. Brisbane City Council) are required to maintain a list of places of heritage importance to their community. Places of local heritage significance may be listed in a local heritage register or specially noted in the council’s planning scheme. For example, the Brisbane City Council Heritage Register/Overlay lists places of importance to the people of Brisbane or places that help tell the story of Brisbane’s history. You can search for places on the BCC register here: https://heritage.brisbane.qld.gov.au. You can also use the mapping overlay method that I mentioned earlier, as this is what the council now uses to manage heritage places and development. You can do this at the BCC website PDOnline, but I warn you- it’s not very user-friendly! https://cityplan.brisbane.qld.gov.au/eplan/ (Enter the address and select from drop down options. On the new page that opens, a list of the applicable overlays for the property, including heritage, will show up on the left hand side . If you want to view the heritage overlay on the whole map, click on the down arrow next to “Overlays” on the right hand side menu and then tick the box next to “Heritage”). Brisbane City Council (and other large councils) also have other types of protection for heritage properties, for example traditional building character and pre-1911 overlays. I will cover these in another post as there is too much to go into here!

Other Heritage Lists

There are also a number of other types of heritage lists, especially those held by individual organisations. A good example that comes to mind is Queensland Rail (nothing to do with the fact that I used to work for them and manage all these buildings!)

Queensland Rail maintains its own list of heritage places, which includes those already on the Queensland Heritage Register or local council registers, but also incorporates sites that may only be of importance to the history of Queensland Rail, for example bridges, signal masts, cranes or other rail infrastructure. There is then an internal process for managing any work that involves these sites, to help ensure they are conserved. 

There are also many other organisations that have their own lists or heritage management plans for their important buildings, including Queensland Health, the Catholic Church and Education Queensland. 

Photo by Veronique Debord on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

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