Retaining walls and Earthworks in Ipswich, will it trigger?

We’ve recently seen a huge spike in enquiries relating to assessable operational works (e.g. earthworks and retaining walls) in the Ipswich City Council region and after a detailed review of the planning scheme requirements, there are quite conservative requirements to avoid a permit.

The following are the criteria for exempt Earthworks, meaning no approval is needed from Council (taken from Schedule 8 in the Ipswich Planning Scheme):


(1) Earthworks which—

(a) do not comprise more than 1000m2 in area; and

(b) do not exceed an average depth of 500mm; and

(c) do not exceed a maximum depth of 800mm; and

(d) do not involve earth batters with a slope greater than 1 in 8; and

(e) do not interfere with the natural flow of stormwater; and

(f) are not undertaken in a natural gully or overland flow path or below the adopted flood level; and

(g) are not undertaken within a public utilities easement; and

(h) are not within 3 metres of an adjoining property; and

(i) involve fill material which is clean, dry, solid, inert material; and

(j) are not within 3 metres of a Local Government infrastructure item.


If you can’t comply with the above list, you could trigger a development application!

That said, not all ‘earthworks’ is considered ‘operational works’.

As per the definition of “building work” under the Planning Act 2016, any earthworks ancillary to assessable building works is considered part of the building works (and not operational works). For example, if you need a retaining wall on a site to stabilise the ground for a new dwelling house, that is ‘building work’. If you’re wanting to retain your backyard to give you a larger play area with some nice landscaping, that isn’t necessarily part of the building works and would be standalone operational works/earthworks.

Confused? Don’t worry, it is bizarrely a complicated part of the Act. If you need some advice, please reach out to one of our town planners on

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