Demolishing a Pre-1947 House – Substantially Altered

Can I demolish my pre-1947 house in Brisbane?

We recently obtained approval for the removal or demolition of a building that was constructed prior to 1947.  This then prompted us to answer some of those common questions we receive including whether or not their house can be removed.

Side Note: The use of 1947 as opposed to 1946 is because the planning requirements relate to building constructed during 1946 or earlier.  Therefore, the use of “before 1947” is simpler terminology instead of saying “in 1946 or earlier” each time.

Typically, a house or building that was constructed before 1947 and that is also in the Traditional building character overlay is not able to be removed. However, there are some limited circumstances where the planning scheme does allow these buildings to be removed. These circumstances are listed below and all require a development application to be lodged to Council.  

  • The building has been substantially altered;
  • The building is structurally unsound;
  • If the building were removed, it would not result in a loss of traditional building character;
  • The building is in a section of the street that does not have traditional building character.

In order for Council to support the demolition of a pre-1947 building, the development (i.e. demolition) has to comply with only one (1) of the above requirements unless your house was constructed in 1911 or earlier. If it was constructed during 1911 or earlier then the only way it can be removed is if it is structurally unsound and not reasonably capable of being made structurally sound.

This article focuses on the first two circumstances as they are the most common.

Why would Council support the demolition of any pre-1947 house?

Council does not treat the demolition of pre-1947 houses lightly. Their goal is to encourage the retention and enhancement of these houses so that they continue to reflect the history of Brisbane’s architecture.   In those identified limited circumstances however, exemptions are made by Council primarily because if one of those applies to a house or building, it is unlikely that it also positively contributes to the street. And so as it no longer positively contributes to the street, and this is not able to be easily rectified, removal is allowed.

Substantially Altered

Substantially altered is the first aspect listed for reasons why Council may support a demolition. When we say “substantially altered” we don’t mean the below – i.e. that some render/stucco has been put over the original weatherboards, or a front verandah closed in.

 What is meant is that the house no longer offers a positive contribution to the street in terms of traditional building character.  Below are a couple of examples of where the Council has approved the removal of buildings, including houses and a comparison of what the house was likely to have looked like when it was originally constructed.  These are examples only and are not intended to mean that every altered pre-1947 house will be supported for demolition if it has these alterations – each application is assessed on its own merits.

The black and white images are taken from the book Brisbane House Styles 1880 to 194- A guide to the affordable house by Judy Gale Rechner. If you are interested in Brisbane housing styles, this is a highly recommended resource.




Key points to remember:

  1. Every application / demolition is assessed on a case-by-case basis. Just because one building with particular alterations was considered sufficient to justify the demolition, it does not mean that it will be supported in every instance.
  2. A building does not need to be considered “attractive” or a good example of traditional building character for it to be required to be retained. It is whether or not it exhibits traditional building character.
  3. Alterations at the rear of the house are likely to be less significant in terms of meeting the test for substantial alteration than those that occur to the front façade.
  4. Unique alterations including render may have been an original element to set the building apart from others in the street.
  5. Unsympathetic alterations that are easily reversible may not be given the same weight as those that are difficult to rectify.

When considering examples of houses that have been approved for demolition on the basis that they were substantially altered, there are a couple of common elements:

  • Fully enclosed/encased with brickwork, with original external fabric (typically weatherboards) completely removed such that by removing the brickwork alone would not reinstate the original fabric.
  • Internal alterations including the removal of the original front wall. This will typically occur where there is a front verandah that has been enclosed.
  • Replacement of all original windows with aluminium frames and alteration to original shape, location and size of the original windows.
  • Unsympathetic extensions including new front landings and entrances and steel-framed stairs.

While one of these aspects on their own may not be sufficient to demonstrate substantial alteration, it is the combination of these or, more precisely, how these alterations create obstacles to the reinstatement of the traditional building form.

Another example which differs slightly from the substantially altered avenue is a dwelling house (shown below) where there were alterations but also a unique orientation. The dwelling house had been altered including enclosure of the lower level with blockwork and upper level verandah enclosed with fibro sheeting. While the alterations themselves may not have appeared too substantial, it was also necessary for the Council to consider the context of the building which in this case was unique to the adjoining pre-1947 buildings. Instead of being orientated to Street A, it was orientated to Street B. This meant that by removing the pre-1947 house it would not result in a loss of traditional building character in Street A.


Structurally Unsound

The other common reason that Council would support the removal of a pre-1947 house is because the building is so much in disrepair that to bring the house back to the standard of habitable would be such a significant economic cost that it is unreasonable for the landowners to be required to do this.  This financial test or what is commonly called the “structurally unsound” test is difficult (very difficult) to demonstrate.  It is not bringing a house back to the point of liveable, purely to a state of structural soundness. This means that the financial costs are more than just new footings and floorboards, it is effectively demonstrating (through a report prepared by a Registered Professional Engineer of Queensland – RPEQ) that the house is structurally unsound.

You then need a costings report that itemises the aspects of the engineer’s report to make the house structurally sound. These costs don’t include a new kitchen or bathroom, they are purely the costs to replace those elements that mean the house will be structurally sound (i.e. no longer at risk of falling over).

What happens if Council refuses the application?

While we can provide examples of where Council has approved demolition, there are other countless examples of where Council has refused these applications.  If your application is refused, you can appeal Council’s decision. For more information on appeals, we recommend reading our article on this topic for more information.

In some cases the appeal of Council’s refusal has been successful, however in other instances they have not been as such. There are no guarantees in planning. We cannot guarantee whether an application will be approved or refused, or whether an appeal will be successful. We can only provide the best advice based on experience and our professional opinion regarding the merits of the development. Ultimately it is up to Council or the Planning and Environment Court to agree.