Australia: Planning Ahead For Sea Level Rises In NSW

Environment and Planning Insights
Last Updated: 16 August 2010
Article by Claire Smith and Nick Thomas

Most Read Contributor in Australia, November 2017

The legislative and policy framework for coastal development in NSW is being updated to give:

  • developers guidance on predicted sea level rises to allow them to adopt an adaptive risk based approach to siting, design and development controls for new development in vulnerable coastal areas;
  • landowners rights to conduct emergency coastal protection works to combat erosion risks to their infrastructure and buildings in particular situations; and
  • Coastal Authorities new powers to prevent or remove illegal works on beaches (or private property) likely to cause erosion or a safety risk or impede public access.


According to the NSW Government, some 200 existing houses at 15 erosion hotspots in NSW are currently exposed in the event of a significant coastal storm, and the number of exposed houses is expected to increase with projected sea level risk. The Coastal Protection Act 1979 has not been reviewed for many years and does not provide a practical way for erosion risks to be addressed in emergency situations.

In addition, there have been a number of challenges to coastal development in the NSW courts recently on the grounds that the decision-maker has failed to take ecologically sustainable development principles (including climate change risk) into account in approving coastal development.

To fill this legislative and policy lacuna, the NSW Government has announced a variety of measures including:

NSW Sea Level Rise Policy Statement

The Policy Statement outlines the NSW Government's objects and commitments with regard to sea level rise adaptation.

The benchmarks set by the Policy Statement are an increase above 1990 mean sea levels of 40 centimetres by 2050 and 90 centimetres by 2100. These benchmarks are intended to support an adaptive risk-based approach by the proponent to future development and upgrading of existing development in vulnerable coastal areas, and to give the decision-maker dealing with development applications a framework on which to base its decisions.

For example, under the Policy Statement, the developer of any new asset should consider the predicted increase in sea level over the lifespan of that asset or development and undertake appropriate risk-based site planning, design and development control in order to minimise the likely impacts if that predicted sea level rise occurs. The use of benchmarks allows consistency in that risk-based assessment.

The NSW Government will periodically monitor sea level rise projections using credible national and international sources, with the next review likely to coincide with the release of the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report due in 2014.

Coastal Protection and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2010

The Bill deals with coastal erosion and projected sea level rise by improving the operation of the principal Act, the Coastal Protection Act 1979. The Bill establishes, amongst other things, the NSW Coastal Panel which, in addition to any role made for it under planning legislation, will take on the function of providing advice to the Minister.

Emergency coastal protection measures

The Bill introduces provisions that enable landowners and occupiers to place certain emergency coastal protection materials (eg. sand bags) on beaches and sand dunes to mitigate the effects of wave erosion without obtaining development consent as long as:

  • the material is placed in accordance with a certificate given by the Minister (although the function of issuing such a certificate can be delegated to an emergency works officer);
  • placing the material is an emergency action during a period of beach erosion;
  • the material is placed to protect a lawfully erected building or land on which a building could be lawfully erected that is zoned residential and is adjacent to land on which a lawfully erected building is located; and
  • the maximum period the materials remain in place is six months (or such other period prescribed by regulations made under the principal Act).

Long-term coastal protection measures

The new Bill also inserts provisions to the effect that consent must not be granted under NSW planning legislation to long-term coastal protection development (such as seawalls) unless the consent authority is satisfied that satisfactory arrangements have been made for the following for the life of the works:

  • the restoration of a beach, or land adjacent to the beach not protected by the works, if any increased erosion of the beach or adjacent land is caused by the presence of the works; and
  • the maintenance of the works.

The NSW Government has stated that amendments to the Infrastructure State Environmental Planning Policy will be progressed following the passage of the Bill which will allow landowners to apply for development to construct long-term coastal protection works. This is necessary as some local environmental plans currently prohibit these works.

Funding for coastal protection measures

The Bill contains provisions enabling local councils to make and levy an annual charge for the provision of coastal protection services on rateable land that benefits from such services. Consent authorities can also ensure there is adequate funding for long-term coastal protection works requiring development consent, through legally binding obligations on land owners.

Penalties and powers for Coastal Authorities

The Bill gives a Coastal Authority which is the designated authority for a beach the power to remove structures or issue stop work orders where it considers that those structures or activities are: causing or likely to cause an increased erosion of a beach or adjacent land; unreasonably limiting public access; or likely to pose a threat to public safety.

The Bill also steeply increases the maximum penalty for offences from 100 penalty units ($11,000) to 4,500 penalty units ($495,000) in the case of a corporation and 2,250 penalty units ($247,000) in any other case.


The introduction of the Bill and the Policy Statement means that the potential for sea level rise and its effect on development is finally being addressed at the regulatory level. The clear benchmarks provided by the Policy Statement make it easier, both for applicants and decision-makers, to address and plan for the impacts of sea level rise at the development application stage.

Once development is undertaken, the Bill streamlines the process for legally protecting it during emergency events. However, it is worth noting that, while the Bill removes the need for development consent, a certificate authorising the works is still required and a landowner or occupier may take advantage of the special provisions relating the emergency coastal protection works only once.

Developers and owners of coastal land may also be liable for new coastal protection levies or rates if the Bill is passed and will need to be wary of Coastal Authorities who will have new powers to remove or alter structures (even on private land that is or fronts a beach).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions