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NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment
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Amendments to the State Environmental Planning Policy (Exempt and Complying Development Codes) 2008 allow bushfire affected businesses to operate temporarily out of a shipping container and/or a portable office for up to two years without council approval, while they plan and rebuild their permanent premises.


The provision will only allow existing approved businesses in business, industrial and RU5 Rural Village zones to continue to operate. The use must be a previously approved commercial or industrial use.


The maximum number of shipping containers/portable offices for business and/or storage purposes is two. Other development under existing exempt provisions can also be carried out – such as air conditioning units, access ramps and car ports.


The development must be carried out within two years of the State of Emergency being declared. In NSW, three separate State of Emergency declarations have been made in association with bushfires in recent months:

- 11-18 November 2019
- 19-26 December 2019
- 3-10 January 2020



The development must:

  • have appropriate foundations and structural support to ensure that it is safe and stable
  • if it is a shipping container:
    - have a maximum length of 12.5m
    - have a maximum height of 3m
    - have a maximum width of 2.5m
  • if it is a portable site office:
    - have a maximum area of 36m2
    - have a maximum height of 3m
  • be at least 1.2m clear of any 150mm diameter sewer main or 2m clear of any 225mm (or greater) diameter sewer main
  • not affect the means of egress from a building in an emergency
  • be installed so that roof water is disposed of without causing a nuisance to adjoining owners
  • be located at a distance from each lot boundary of at least:
    - 5m, if the adjoining lot is used for a residential purpose
    - 1m, if the adjoining lot is not used for a residential purpose
  • not be installed over any easement
  • not be installed over drainage pipes or any house drainage pipeline
  • if it contains plumbing fixtures – have those fixtures connected to an approved waste water treatment device or an approved connection to the sewer.

Other relevant legislation will continue to apply. For example, for food and drink businesses, the requirements of the Food Act 2003 and associated regulations will continue to apply.


Example: A State of Emergency was declared on 3 January 2020 in relation to the NSW bush fires. On 23 January 2020, Hugh’s Homewares and Furnishings store was burnt down in the bush fire. Until two years after that date, Hugh can install a maximum of:

- two shipping containers on the lot, or 
- two portable offices on the lot, or 
- one shipping container and one portable office on the lot.

Any shipping containers or portable offices installed on the property must be removed within two years after they have been installed. Otherwise, approval from council will be needed. The property on which Hugh’s Homewares and Furnishings store was located in an RU5 Rural Village zone directly adjoins a residential property. Any shipping container or portable office Hugh installs for business use will need to be set back from the boundary of an adjoining residential property at least five metres.

Hugh can also install any other development that can currently be carried out under the existing exempt provisions – such as an access ramp or an air conditioning unit.

Page last updated: 29/04/2021