Heritage Permit Applications in Cape Town

Heritage Applications and permits in Cape Town

Alterations to old buildings and structures


In South Africa heritage resources are managed through the National Heritage Resources Act 25 of 1999.

This confirms that any structure, older than 60 years, triggers Section 34 of the NHR Act governing structures. This implies that the owner  is required to make a presentation to the Provincial Heritage Resources Agency to apply for a heritage permit in the event of demolition, additions and alterations for any building or structure older than 60 years. When applying for a heritage permit, your house will be graded in one of three categories. Some structures carry a conditional grading which means that they are provisionally protected until they have been properly assessed and their grading ratified for possible formal protection.

Heritage sites are assessed for significance in terms of specific values: intrinsic value, contextual value and associative value. It is also motivated in terms of specific criteria with regards to: aesthetic, cultural, scientific, social, linguistic, religious and further considerations such as rarity and vulnerability are taken into account in terms of grading and protection.

In brief, the national estate has been graded in terms of heritage significance: There are formally gazetted protected sites and provisional protected sites.

Section 27 sites:


  • Grade I – would be sites with exceptional qualities of national interest such as Table Mountain, Robben Island, The Union Buildings, etc.
  • Grade II – would be sites of special provincial significance. These sites would trigger heritage impact assessments for any changes effected.
  • Grade III (A, B & C) – would be of contextual regional significance.


If the site shows human activity older than 100 years it potentially also triggers (Section 35) archaeological significance. Important to note that it is not only buildings which are protected but also old burial and grave sites (through Section 36), cultural landscapes and intangible heritage. Even objects of special significance are protected under Section 32 of the Act.

A further category of actions which may trigger the NHR Act, Section 38 requiring a Heritage Impact Assessment, would be development which is larger than 5 000 square meters in area, involving three or more erven which were subdivided or consolidated within the past five years, re-zoning of a site which exceeds 10 000 square meters in area or a pipeline, powerline, canal, wall, road, barrier or similar development which exceeds 300 meters in length.


Websites of interest for further reading

  • www.stanfordconservation.co.za:  
  • www.sahra.org.za; 
  • www.hwc.org.za




The National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act

The NBR and BS Act requires that all building work must be approved by the local authority and that the proposed work must comply with “any other applicable law” before it can be approved by the local authority.

Zoning or Town Planning schemes

The local authority’s zoning scheme is the most obvious “other applicable law” that must be complied with before any building plan can be approved. Zoning schemes establish the permitted set-backs, heights, coverage, floor areas, parking provisions etc. for the buildings in each zone. Zoning schemes may also establish special areas where restrictions apply, for example in conservation areas.

The National Heritage Resources Act

Section 34 of the NHR Act (no 25 of 1999), requires that “no person may alter or demolish any structure or part of a structure which is older than sixty years without a permit issued by the relevant provincial heritage authority.” Properties in Cape Town falls under the authority of Heritage Western Cape (HWC).


What is the process for preparing your building plans for heritage approval ?


The Architect or heritage consultant must confirm with the local authority’s officials, that the proposal complies with the zoning scheme of the City of Cape Town. Building plans that satisfy the zoning regulations cannot be approved by the local authority until all other applicable law is complied with. Therefore, if the building which is to be altered or added to is more than sixty years old, Heritage Western Cape must first approve the proposed alterations/ additions.

The local authority’s heritage management officials will confirm whether the property in question is older than sixty years, if it falls within the boundary of a conservation area and lastly, if the building has been identified as having “heritage value” (heritage value is assigned giving the building a specific grading; 3A, 3B or 3C). All this information should be recorded in writing. The heritage official may also make helpful suggestions to improve the proposal from an architectural or environmental point of view.

In many towns in the Western Cape there are registered conservation bodies who are regularly consulted in such matters. Heritage officials will be able to confirm if this applies to the locality or the building in question. These conservation bodies must be consulted with, proof of their comment is required by HWC.

To obtain the heritage permit, the proponent should complete the official Heritage Western Cape form and submit with all the other documentation required as well as obtain the signature of all parties involved (owner, architect/ applicant -Power of Attorney included if the applicant is not the owner).


The following documentation should be attached to the application form when submitting to HWC [Heritage Western Cape]:


  • The architectural drawings – indicating the existing buildings with the proposed alterations/ additions that should be coloured clearly to indicate all of the proposed works.
  • A locality plan showing the position of the property in the neighbourhood and town.
  • Photographs of the building (interior and exterior) and its setting (streetscape).
  • Evidence of the opinions of the parties consulted (the local heritage authority and the local conservation body & resident’s association). This includes their written comment as well as a stamp on the architectural drawings as proof of their consent.
  • A motivation of the works proposed.
  • Proof of ownership i.e. Title Deed
  • SG Diagram
  • If the building is of heritage significance (graded 3A, 3B or 3C), the report should include a historical background (information on the building’s history; subdivision of erven, when it was built, previous owners etc.)
  • Proof of payment (R330 for 2016) with the correct reference number.
  • 2 sets of the stamped, coloured, municipal plans.
  • 2 colour copies of other supporting documentation.
  • A digital copy of all the above on CD.


Once the permit has been granted, the proponent should attach the permit to the building plan application documentation and proceed to obtain the clearances necessary for final building plan approval in terms of the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act.