A NSW Government website

Controlled activity approvals

What is a controlled activity?

Find out whether you need a controlled activity approval, what exemptions there are, and how to lodge an IDAS DA.

Hawksbury on an overcast day.
What is Waterfront land?

Controlled activities are actions carried out on waterfront land, as defined in the Water Management Act 2000. You must obtain an approval from the department to carry out activities on waterfront land unless you have an exemption.

Waterfront land is defined as the bed of any river, lake or estuary, and the land on each side within 40 metres of the river bank, lake shore or estuary’s mean high water mark.

Controlled activities are:

  • erecting a building
  • carrying out works
  • removing material from waterfront land, such as plants or rocks
  • depositing material on waterfront land, such as gravel or fill
  • any activity which affects the quantity or flow of water in a water source.

Examples of controlled activities include:

  • modifications to a watercourse, such as erosion control works and channel realignment
  • construction of bed control measures
  • construction of watercourse crossings such as bridges, causeways and bed level crossings, and ancillary works, such as roads
  • construction of stormwater outlets and spillways
  • construction of boat ramps and sea walls
  • laying pipes and cables
  • sand and gravel extraction.

The department has a Waterfront land e-tool to help you determine whether the site of your proposed project is classed as waterfront land. For more information, see the Waterfront land e-tool fact sheet (PDF, 192.21 KB).

Does my project qualify for an exemption?

The department receives a significant number of controlled activity approval applications which aren’t necessary as the works proposed are exempt. You do not need a controlled activity approval if an exemption applies.

What if I don’t get a controlled activity approval for my works?

The Natural Resources Access Regulator (‘NRAR’) monitors waterfront development to detect unapproved controlled activities. It is an offence to carry out a controlled activity without an approval. It is also an offence not to follow the terms and conditions of the approval.

Strict penalties apply for both offences. The maximum penalty for a corporation is $2.002 million and a further $132,000 for each day the offence continues. For individuals, fines of up to $500,500 may be applied, with a further $66,000 for each day the offence continues.

How do I apply for a controlled activity approval or integrated development DA?

Most controlled activities require a development application (DA) approval from the local council as well as a controlled activity approval from the department. When this is the case, your project is called integrated development.

Contact your local council if you need advice on whether your project needs DA approval.

If your project does need DA approval, you will need to lodge the DA with the council first, through the NSW Planning Portal. You will need to include with it much of the information you will later submit to the department when you apply for the controlled activity approval.

When the council’s assessors see the project is on waterfront land, they will forward it to the department as part of the council’s approval process.

The department will review the proposal and if it is compliant, will issue general terms of approval (GTA) to the council, which the council then incorporates into its consent conditions.

When you receive approval for your DA, you can then apply to the department for a ‘Part 4’ controlled activity approval. Part 4 indicates your project has been approved by a council.

For more information on how to apply for a controlled activity approval see How to apply for controlled activity approvals.

If your project does not require DA approval from your council, apply for a ‘Part 5’ controlled activity approval.

How does the department assess controlled activity approval applications?

Once the department has received an application either from you or from a council, we will assess the potential impacts of the proposed structure or activity on the waterway involved and its waterfront land. We may still grant an approval if there is only minimal harm to the site.

We will also assess if your project site would benefit from restorative work at the same time, such as revegetation of banks. If so, your approval may include conditions which specify this.

NRAR has published Guidelines for controlled activities on waterfront land - riparian corridors which gives further insight into the controlled activity rules.

How to apply for controlled activity approvals

Application forms and guides, including ones to help you apply for a new approval or amend an existing one.

Controlled activity exemption e-tool

The controlled activity exemption e-tool will help you identify if an exemption applies to your proposal.

Tweed River on a sunny day.

Guidelines and e-tools for controlled activity

Information on the types of activity that are classified as controlled activities.

Waterfront land e-tool

An interactive web-based tool that aims to help applicants and consultants determine the definition of waterfront land.