A NSW Government website

Compliance in the coastal zone – unauthorised works and development

Compliance and enforcement arrangements in the coastal zone help manage the risks and impacts caused by unauthorised works and development.


Impacts of unauthorised works may include increased erosion, contamination, environmental degradation, risks to life and public safety or other effects on beaches and foreshore areas that may create legacy issues for coastal communities.

Compliance and enforcement in the coastal zone generally occur under the provisions of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and other legislation. This helps ensure that unauthorised works and development in the coastal zone are treated the same way as any other unauthorised development, and that any enforcement action follows a transparent and established process.

Local councils and public authorities have an important role in undertaking compliance and enforcement activities when unauthorised works or development takes place. This enables environmental impacts to be minimised and reduces the likelihood of public safety issues arising from poorly designed, placed or maintained works.

A proactive program for dealing with unauthorised works and development can help mitigate against the longer-term costs and liabilities that councils and public authorities may face as a result of having to manage the impacts or legacy issues.

A beachside embankment show clear signs of erosion at Wamberal Beach 18 July 2020.

Wamberal, a coastal suburb of the Central Coast region in New South Wales.

What is the coastal zone?

The Coastal Management Act 2016 defines the NSW coastal zone as a combination of 4 areas (coastal management areas). These areas have different values, and the Coastal Management Act 2016 specifies the management objectives for each area. The coastal management areas may also overlap.

The State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) (Resilience and Hazards) 2022 maps the 4 coastal management areas that make up the coastal zone, for the purposes of both the Coastal Management Act 2016 and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.

The Resilience and Hazards SEPP maps can be viewed alongside other relevant local and state planning controls in the ePlanning Spatial Viewer.

Launch the ePlanning Spatial Viewer

What are some examples of unauthorised works in the coastal zone?

Examples of unauthorised works or non-compliance in the coastal zone include:

  • dumping material such as rocks, building and other materials on a beach or foreshore
  • constructing unauthorised works on beaches or foreshores
  • constructing unauthorised coastal protection works
  • unauthorised opening of estuary entrances
  • replacement/improvement of pre-existing unauthorised works
  • works undertaken by public authorities without proper assessment under the Environment Planning and Assessment Act 1979
  • polluting the coastal environment
  • unauthorised clearing of coastal vegetation on dunes or along foreshores
  • unauthorised clearing of marine vegetation such as mangroves.
What are the compliance and enforcement powers under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979?

Consent authorities, such as local councils, have broad powers under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 to investigate unauthorised works and whether development is being carried out in accordance with the conditions of a development consent (where required).

Where a breach is identified, consent authorities have a range of enforcement powers and remedies available including:

  • investigations
  • negotiating practical solutions
  • accepting enforceable undertakings
  • issuing orders
  • issuing fines and official cautions
  • commencing prosecution proceedings in court, attracting fines and criminal convictions for the most serious offences.
What compliance powers are under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997?

The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 contains a range of pollution offences (such as water pollution, air pollution, noise pollution and land pollution) and various waste offences.

The dumping of material in the coastal zone may be an offence under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act and may be subject to penalties.

Who is responsible for ensuring compliance?

Local councils and consent authorities

  • Allegations of unauthorised works or development.
  • Allegations of non-compliance with development consents.
  • Allegations of pollution by individuals that are not regulated by the Environment Protection Authority.
  • Complaints, or allegations of non-compliance, relating to Complying Development Certificates issued by private certifiers.
  • Results of investigations carried out by local councils.

Department of Planning, Housing and Infrastructure

NSW Environment Protection Authority

  • Pollution-related matters involving government organisations and holders of environment protection licences, as well as a range of other issues such as contaminated land and illegal dumping.

Natural Resources Access Regulator

  • Alleged non-compliance with water management laws.
What are coastal protection works?

The Coastal Management Act 2016 defines coastal protection works to mean beach nourishment activities or works and activities to reduce the impact of coastal hazards on land adjacent to tidal waters, including (but not limited to) seawalls, revetments and groynes.

Coastal protection works can have significant adverse impacts (short and long term) on the environment and adjacent land. As a result, proposed works require approval before they can be built, that is, they are a form of 'development' under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. A private landowner wishing to build a seawall or other types of coastal protection works should consult the local council early for advice.

Further information on the approval process for coastal protection works can be found in the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water's Coastal protection works fact sheet. Coastal protection works that are identified in a certified coastal management program under the Coastal Management Act 2016 have a different approval pathway to works not identified in a coastal management program.

Coastal protection works

What happens in an emergency?

The NSW State Storm Plan outlines arrangements for responding to severe weather in New South Wales. It sets out the statewide emergency management arrangements for prevention, preparation, response, and initial recovery arrangements for storm activity. Coastal erosion is within the scope of the plan.

Rescue and emergency management

How do I report illegal dumping?

Regardless of whether the land is public or private, illegal dumping is a crime and should be reported. You can report illegal dumping to your local council or the Environment Protection Authority.

How do I report illegal clearing?

Please report suspected unlawful native vegetation clearing to your local council or the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.

If you suspect illegal clearing or harm to marine vegetation (saltmarsh, mangroves, seagrass) you can report it to Department of Primary Industries: Fisheries.