Preparing a Heritage Impact Assessment

Professional Associations


According to a recent ICOMOS publication (Ref 1), change may be adverse or beneficial, but both need to be assessed as objectively as possible against the stated values of a heritage listing. The publication provides a guidance as a tool to encourage managers and decision-makers to think about key aspects of heritage management and to make decisions based on evidence within the framework of the 1972 World Heritage Convention. The guidance is designed to encourage potential developers or other agents of change to consider key factors at an appropriate time and at an appropriate level of detail.Fig 1 Glebe

Fig1. Arcadia Road, Glebe – NSW, Australia

Heritage Impact Assessments (HIAs) may also be useful in the general management of cultural properties by collating information at a given point in time. There are many ways of assessing impact on heritage assets, some formalised in law, some very technical and sophisticated, others less so. The guidance sets down some principles and options. But whatever route is chosen, the assessment must be “fit-for-purpose” – suitable for the heritage property and for the changes proposed as well as suitable to the local environment. It must provide the evidence on which decisions can be made in a clear, transparent and practicable way.

  1. Understanding the Values
    In any proposal for change there will be many factors to be considered. Balanced and justifiable decisions about change depend upon understanding who values a place and why they do so. This leads to a clear statement of a place’s significance and with it the ability to understand the impact of the proposed change on that significance. In the case of cultural heritage properties, their significance is established at the time of inscription and defined as their Heritage Value. Government states and agencies undertake to retain and guard heritage values through protecting and conserving the attributes that convey such values. The Statement which sets out why a property is deemed to have heritage value and what the attributes are that convey such values, will be central to the HIA.
  2. Minimise adverse Impacts
    Every reasonable effort should be made to eliminate or minimise adverse impacts on significant places. Ultimately, however, it may be necessary to balance the public benefit of the proposed change against the harm to the place. It is therefore also important to know who benefits from the proposed change and for what reasons. In such cases the weight given to heritage values should be proportionate to the significance of the place and the impact of the change upon it. Heritage properties de facto are seen to have local, state, national and some time, world heritage.
  3. Threats and Risks to Heritage Status
    Where change may affect the heritage property, consideration of the cultural [and/or natural] heritage attributes should be central to planning any proposal and should be presented early on in any general assessment such as an Environmental Impact Assessment – EIA. Managers and decision-makers should consider whether the heritage conservation needs should be given greater weight than competing uses and developments. A key consideration is the threat or risk to the heritage status and this should be clearly addressed in the HIA report. Where statutory environmental impact assessments apply, the cultural heritage sections must take account of this ICOMOS guidance. An HIA undertaken as part of an EIA in these circumstances is not additional to normal EIA requirements, but uses a different methodology which clearly focuses on values and attributes that convey that asset. The HIA should be summarised early on in the Environmental Statement and the full technical HIA report should be included as a technical appendix. The requirements should be made clear at the planning or scoping stage.

ICOMOS encourage heritage consultants to ensure that HIAs are in line with this guidance and are undertaken in line with best practice. Where cultural heritage assessments clearly do not focus on the attributes of heritage values, they would not meet desired standards in managing change to heritage properties.


New South Wales has two main types of heritage listings known as heritage items and conservation areas. Heritage listings flag that a place or object has heritage significance. Four main statutory lists contain heritage listings for places that are significant locally, state-wide, Australia-wide and/or world-wide. Locally significant heritage places are listed on local council Local Environmental Plans. The State Heritage Register lists our State’s most significant heritage places and objects known as items of state heritage significance. Nationally significant places are listed on the National Heritage List. Places of world-wide significance like the Sydney Opera House are inscribed on the World Heritage List Ref 2).

Heritage places from all four lists collectively demonstrate the unique history and achievements of the people of NSW and Australia. As physical links to Australia’s past, heritage places trace the transition of Australia from its ancient indigenous origins to a penal outpost of Great Britain to the advanced culture of today’s developed nation (Ref 2).

Paul Rappoport – Heritage 21
13 July 2017


(Ref 1) Guidance on Heritage Impact Assessments for Cultural World Heritage Properties, A publication of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, January 2011

(Ref 2) Heritage Listing – What it Means for You, Heritage Branch, NSW Department of Planning, 2010, updated 2011.

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