Earthworks involve the excavation or filling of land. Before undertaking any earthworks, you need to ensure that you either have the appropriate approval, or the earthworks meet the requirements of exempt development (work that does not require planning approval).

What earthworks can I undertake without approval?

To be exempt from requiring approval, earthworks must meet all of the general, land-based and specific requirements, specified in State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) 2008 (Codes SEPP).

If your land has any of the following attributes you will not be able to carry out exempt earthworks under the Codes SEPP (and instead you need to seek Council approval via a development application ).

  • contains a heritage item or draft heritage item;
  • is subject to flooding;
  • is situated in an environmentally sensitive area (such as land listed or within 100 metres of land listed as having high biodiversity significance or a Ramsar identified wetland area);
  • land listed as having high biodiversity significance or a Ramsar identified wetland area);
  • situated in an area being of high Aboriginal cultural significance; or
  • land identified as being critical habitat under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 or Part 7A of the Fisheries Management Act 1994.

In order for earthworks to be considered exempt development, it is required to meet the following standards outlined in the Codes SEPP:

  • not be a cut or fill of more than 600mm below or above ground level (existing), and
  • be located at least 1m from each lot boundary, and
  • if it is carried out, constructed or installed in a heritage conservation area or a draft heritage conservation area — be located in the rear yard, and
  • be located at least 40m from a waterbody (natural), and
  • not redirect the flow of any surface water or ground water or cause sediment to be transported onto an adjoining property, and
  • if it is a retaining wall or structural support for excavation or fill, or combination of both:
    • not be more than 600mm high, measured vertically from the base of the development to its uppermost portion, and
    • be separated from any retaining wall or other structural support on the site by at least 2m, measured horizontally, and
    • be located at least 1m from any registered easement, sewer main or water main, and
    • have adequate drainage lines connected to the existing stormwater drainage system for the site, and
  • if the fill is more than 150mm deep—not occupy more than 25% of the area of the lot, and
  • if the fill is imported to the site—be free of building and other demolition waste, and only contain virgin excavated natural material (VENM) as defined in Part 3 of Schedule 1 to the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997, and
  • if the land is in a rural zone-not be fill of more than 100 cubic metres on each lot.

In addition, earthworks must not involve the removal or damage to existing vegetation located on the land that would require consent from Council unless this consent has been granted.

If the earthworks you proposed to undertake does not meet all of the above requirements, you will not be able to carry out exempt earthworks under the Codes SEPP (and instead you need to seek Council approval via a development application ).

Disposal of excavated material

Any excavated material to be taken off-site must be disposed of at a lawful waste disposal facility.  If any waste material is dumped illegally in bushland areas or on the roadside, the person that carries out this activity may be subject to significant penalties.

It is recommended that if you are removing material from your property that you keep copies of waste dockets/receipts from waste facilities as evidence that you have satisfied the disposal requirements.

What am I required to do if I am unable to meet the exempt development requirements?

If your proposal does not meet the exempt development requirements contained in the Codes SEPP then you must obtain approval from Council before carrying out any works.  This will involve the lodgement of a development application which includes relevant supporting information.

The requirements for lodging an application for earthworks are detailed in the Earthworks, Filling of Land and Water Storage Facilities Checklist and associated DA Glossary which may be found on Councils DA Checklists and Glossary page.

What are the consequences of carrying out unapproved earthworks?

If you carry out earthworks that do not meet the Codes SEPP exemptions you risk being prosecuted and fined.  Additionally, you may also cause environmental damage to your property if you allow uncontrolled material containing contaminants to be placed on your land that will result in a costly removal and rehabilitation process.

More Information:

If you require any further information in relation to earthworks please contact Council’s Duty Officer on (02) 4560 4444 or via email:

Page ID: 161030

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