NSW Department of Planning and Environment

Coastal Lands Protection Scheme

The Coastal Lands Protection Scheme is a long-running NSW Government program that began in 1973.

The scheme is used to bring significant coastal lands into public ownership and supports long-term management and care of this land, while improving public access to our coastal environments. The department administers the scheme through an annual budget allocation of $3 million for strategic acquisitions.

The scheme operates along the entire NSW coastal zone except for the Greater Sydney metropolitan area, identified as between Broken Bay (Central Coast) and the Minnamurra River (south of Shellharbour).

How the scheme operates

The NSW coast is one of our greatest assets, with a diverse ecosystem and unique natural features and resources. Our vision for the scheme is to protect the unique qualities of the NSW coastline for the benefit of current and future generations.

Land acquired under the scheme must meet at least one of three criteria:

  • Public access – to promote public access to the coastal foreshore.
  • Scenic quality – to maintain the scenic quality of the NSW coast and to maintain landscape breaks to separate and articulate existing coastal towns and settlements.
  • Ecological values – to protect ecological sites of regional, state and/or national significance.

The scheme is mainly a voluntary acquisition program, meaning the department will generally negotiate with landholders who are willing to sell the land at the market value. The department does not retain any of the land acquired under the scheme. Instead, it transfers the land to a suitable manager, which is generally the local council or National Parks and Wildlife Service.

The scheme is also a mechanism for the NSW Government to acquire land that has been identified for public benefit or ecological protection under strategic processes, such as regional plans, council Coastal Management Programs or actions under the Marine Estate Management Strategy.

Coastal Lands Protection Scheme Guidelines

Following consultation with coastal councils and state government agencies, the department has developed a new set of Guidelines to support the Coastal Lands Protection Scheme.

The Guidelines provide advice on the assessment process and how you can help identify suitable coastal lands for public acquisition.

The department has also prepared a nomination form to help councils and the community identify valuable public coastal assets for potential purchase.

To nominate land for potential acquisition, please complete our land nomination form:

View the Guidelines

The Guidelines also support your council’s strategic activities to protect our coastline and will help increase collaboration across state and local government in acquiring or managing coastal land.

History of the scheme

Since the introduction of the scheme in 1973, more than 15,000 hectares of coastal land has been acquired, making a considerable contribution towards protecting the NSW coast. Find out how the scheme was developed and its history below.

Coastal Lands Protection Scheme timeline

In 1971, the then Minister for Lands made a request to the Minister for Local Government regarding the desirability of enacting legislation to protect the coast’s scenic, recreational and historical attributes from ‘undesirable development’. The Minister for Lands suggested bringing the scenically most important areas into public ownership and protecting other land against changes in land use that would be detrimental to the landscape’s aesthetic value.

In November 1971, the Ministers appointed an interdepartmental committee, to investigate coastal lands, assess the importance of conservation and recreation, and identify areas which should be preserved and, if necessary, acquired.

The committee agreed that it was important the State’s coastal scenery be protected for the benefit of present and future generations. Their report recognised concern over development that could be ‘detrimental to the visual character of the landscape’, and the need to cater for ‘the many requirements of passive and active recreation and access to the foreshore’. The committee decided that the best method of achieving this objective was by acquisition or restrictive zoning of relevant lands.

The scheme was introduced in 1973 to implement the committee’s recommendations. Originally, the scheme included important features of the coast, such as headlands, dunes, hinterland, coastal lagoons and lakes, particularly where the original vegetation was still dominant. The original mapping identified coastal lands as one of two categories:

  • ‘Red land’ – where Government acquisition was essential.
  • ‘Yellow land’ – where planning restrictions were required to protect the land, but acquisition was not essential.

Since its introduction, the scheme has purchased 86.6% of the original ‘red lands’, acquired additional lands which have met the scheme criteria and protected further land through suitable zoning.

In total, more than 15,000 hectares of coastal land has been acquired since 1973, contributing to new coastal national parks and reserves for public benefit.

The scheme has had some changes since 1973. In 2005, the acquisition criteria were expanded to include ecological values, in recognition of how important coastal environments Are. In this period the scheme also added some sites to Local Environmental Plans, which are subject to ‘coastal acquisition’ clauses for Government acquisition under the scheme.

In 2011 the scheme was reoriented to allow nominations for potential acquisitions by councils and other stakeholders.

In 2020, the department worked with local and state government to develop new Guidelines to help anyone identify suitable coastal land for potential public acquisition and how it is assessed.

The Guidelines support council’s strategic activities aimed at protecting coastal lands and help increase collaboration in acquiring and managing coastal land in NSW.

Page last updated: 02/11/2022