Department of Health

Cemeteries conservation

Key messages

  • Cemeteries are subject to conservation and heritage legislation.
  • Cemetery trusts may need to gain permission to undertake new work or maintenance where heritage and conservation sites exist within a cemetery.

Conservation and planning

Victorian cemeteries fulfil a number of functions. They are:

  • a place for the interment of deceased persons
  • a significant link to Victoria’s heritage
  • areas of cultural, historical and ecological significance.

A cemetery trust must always take these different functions into consideration when undertaking any works or maintenance within the cemetery. This includes erecting a new structure, the removal of native vegetation and any other key works that have a significant impact upon the character of the cemetery.

Trusts have an obligation to check for and be aware of any heritage or other planning overlays that may apply to their cemeteries before undertaking any works or maintenance. Advice in regards to such matters is available from local councils and the National Trust of Australia (Victoria).

It is important that cemetery trusts consult with all relevant stakeholders when undertaking key projects. For example, where practicable, trusts should advise and consult with surrounding private residences when removing boundary trees or undertaking major projects that may impact on the amenity of residents living adjacent to the cemetery.

Conservation and planning legislation

The legislation relevant to cemeteries regarding conservation and planning includes, but is not limited to:

  • Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994
  • Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988
  • Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
  • Heritage Act 1995
  • Planning and Environment Act 1987
  • Wildlife Act 1975.

The relevant legislation does not allow ignorance of applicable overlays as an excuse for not obtaining the appropriate permits prior to undertaking work. The onus is on each cemetery trust to be aware of the conservation legislation relevant to the particular cemeteries that they are responsible for.


The trust should be aware of its responsibilities (if any) under the Heritage Act 1995 and the Planning and Environment Act 1987, and be sensitive to the increased public awareness in the heritage value and the need for conservation of historic components of older cemeteries.

If a Heritage Overlay applies to a particular cemetery, this may impact the trust’s ability to undertake what would otherwise be considered relatively minor maintenance that may alter the visual appearance of the cemetery. For example, tasks such as repainting cemetery structures and buildings, or resurfacing roads. For this reason, trusts should ensure they are fully informed of any overlays applicable to their cemeteries.

Reviewed 24 November 2021


Contact details

Hours: Monday to Friday 9.00 am to 5.00 pm

Cemetery Sector Governance Support GPO Box 4057, Melbourne, VIC 3001

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