Protect & Preserve Survey Marks in Queensland2020-11-26T09:23:27+10:00

Protect & Preserve Survey Marks in Queensland

By |November 24th, 2020|SurveyingTitling

Interference with survey marks can be inevitable in construction and development projects, but it should never be taken lightly.  The public must recognise the importance and value of survey marks and implement proactive measures to protect and preserve them.  This will safeguard the public’s interests and prevent irreparable damage to a critical State asset.

There is a common and dangerous misconception that surveying is a simple matter of marking property boundaries using coordinates from the Digital Cadastre Database (DCDB). But the DCDB is merely an approximation and representation of the true cadastral (legal boundary) framework and can vary across the State from centimetres to hundreds of metres. The truth is, there is no survey accurate ‘coordinated cadastre’, and it is unlikely there will be one anytime soon. Instead, we must rely upon, and protect, physical survey marks across the State.

The importance of survey marks

Queensland, like most jurisdictions, relies on a monument-based cadastre, where surveyors reinstate property boundaries based on documentary and physical evidence, establishing the intention of the surveyor at the time boundaries were first created. Survey marks placed to mark or reference a property corner become ‘monuments’ (cadastral survey marks). In determining boundaries, courts have laid down a set of rules and priorities, known as a hierarchy of evidence. Coordinates do not rate a mention in this hierarchy, whereas cadastral survey marks are relied upon for the accurate marking or reinstatement of property boundaries, and will be crucial for the successful transition from a monument-based cadastre to a ‘co-ordinated cadastre’ in the future.  Cadastral survey marks are clearly a significant and valuable infrastructure for Queensland, underpinning the ongoing accuracy and integrity of the cadastral framework and property rights.

Hierarchy of Boundary Evidence in Queensland (Source: DNRME Cadastral Survey Requirements)

In addition to cadastral survey marks, Permanent Survey Marks (PSMs) are unique in the fact that they can also be classified as cadastral survey marks when connected to property boundaries. Notably, PSMs are assigned a numeric identifier and are registered in the Survey Control Database (SCDB) administered by the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy (DNRME).  Aside from cadastral connections, other pertinent information can be registered against a PSM including coordinates, height and other administrative details.  PSMs are also a significant and valuable infrastructure for Queensland underpinning the ongoing accuracy and integrity of the horizontal and vertical control networks and are critical for the completion of any project that requires accurate geodetic position or height.

Example Survey Control Mark Report & PSM sketch plan

Given the importance and significance of survey marks, it is not surprising that the interference with these marks is an offence under Section 42 of the Survey and Mapping Infrastructure Act 2003. Non-compliance may prove costly as penalties can apply (Refer to the ‘Survey Marks’ section of the DNRME website).  As per the Act, there are exceptions with interfering with cadastral marks at property corners (typically pegs) whereby a mark can be interfered with in order to erect a fence, wall or other permanent structure along the boundary.  In all other instances, prior approval or advice should be sought from DNRME or your local consulting cadastral surveyor, before interfering with survey marks.  Thus it is crucial for the public to understand what these survey marks look like and where they may be located.

What do survey marks look like?

Cadastral survey marks and PSMs can take on a variety of forms. Some are buried but most are visible on the surface (painted or unpainted), and you walk over or past them every day. The disturbance or destruction of these unassuming marks can adversely affect construction and development costs, the accuracy and integrity of the cadastral framework and horizontal and vertical networks, not to mention the efficiency of a surveyor to carry out their professional duties.

Examples of cadastral survey marks include:

Examples of PSMs include:

How are survey marks lost?

Survey marks may inevitably be disturbed or destroyed through various activities, but they should never be taken for granted.  Survey marks can be disturbed by any construction or development work, particularly works undertaken within a road corridor.  Typical activities which can interfere with survey marks include but are not limited to restoration of kerb and channel, footpath and driveway upgrades and installations, utilities and service work, vegetation clearing, landscaping and road widenings.

No DBYD records currently exist for survey marks.  Unlike other infrastructure across the State, the public cannot carry out a search showing the location of all survey marks within an area.  Yet survey marks exist in practically every street, so one can safely assume that it is highly likely that any construction works within a road corridor will detrimentally impact on survey marks.  Although survey marks are seemingly abundant across the State, they are all unique in their purpose; therefore the value and legacy of a survey mark needs to be considered on an individual basis, rather than purely considering the size of the project and the number of marks affected.  Cadastral survey plans and PSM sketch plans lodged with DNRME are the only record of the location and existence of survey marks across Queensland.

Survey marks are decimated by any construction activity within a road corridor, particularly kerb & footpath refurbishment

How many survey marks would be scattered amongst the concrete rubble at this Council depot?

How to protect survey marks

A consulting cadastral surveyor should be engaged to determine the likelihood of any survey marks being interfered with on a construction project. This is achieved by the surveyor carrying out a cadastral search and review of the proposed works and potential impact on any survey marks and property boundaries in the vicinity.  If marks will be interfered with, then an Identification Survey plan (Ident plan) may need to be completed well in advance of any works commencing.  This pre-construction Ident plan physically locates and verifies the existence of any cadastral survey marks and PSMs within the corridor, and places additional survey marks in safe locations surrounding the work site as recovery marks.  These recovery marks preserve the legal traceability and legacy of any cadastral survey mark and the corresponding property boundaries.  This Ident plan is lodged with DNRME as a record of survey available on the public register.  Any PSMs shown as ‘gone’ on the Ident plan will be updated in the SCDB as being ‘not found’.

Depending on the size and nature of the project and once all works are completed, a post-construction Ident survey may be required to re-establish sufficient cadastral survey marks and PSMs in suitable locations throughout the completed construction site to facilitate future and efficient reinstatement of property boundaries.  This post-construction Ident plan would also be lodged with DNRME.  If PSMs are disturbed or adversely affected from construction, further surveys may be required to coordinate and/or level PSMs to suitably re-establish the pre-construction horizontal and vertical control networks.

Example Ident Plan of Recovery Marks (no reinstatement – cost-effective approach)

Call a Consulting Cadastral Surveyor

An Ident plan is the only formal method of documenting the existence and location of cadastral survey marks and constitutes a cadastral survey.  This cadastral survey must be completed by a suitably qualified person registered with the Surveyors Board of Queensland (SBQ) such as a Cadastral Surveyor or alternatively by a Surveying Associate, Survey Graduate or Registered Surveyor under the supervision of a Cadastral Surveyor.  That Cadastral Surveyor is either a Consulting Surveyor or works for a corporation that is registered as a consulting surveyor.  The registration details of who completed the cadastral survey are noted in the survey certificate in the bottom left corner of a cadastral plan.

Once an individual becomes registered with the SBQ they can obtain endorsements such as cadastral and consulting.  To obtain a consulting endorsement an individual must already first possess the cadastral endorsement.  Surveyors can also obtain mining and engineering endorsements, but only individuals or corporations that are registered as Consulting Surveyors can operate a cadastral surveying business and consult to the public.  To determine the registration status of a surveyor with the SBQ you can look up their details on the SBQ website – Search SBQ Registrant List

Example SBQ Registrant List Details: Consulting Surveyor – Individual & Consulting Surveyor – Corporation

Widespread and far-reaching impact on the community

The thing that must be considered when it comes to the interference of survey marks is not just how many survey marks are affected but also the number of properties that could be adversely affected.  Due to the nature and principals of cadastral reinstatement, properties removed from the construction corridor can still be impacted, particularly when the proposed works include road intersections.  For example, a cadastral survey mark fixing the property boundary of a road intersection affects the reinstatement of at least two boundary alignments.

Depending on the historical survey evidence in an area together with the configuration of the parcel being surveyed, the surveyor may need to accurately locate cadastral marks around the section to reinstate the necessary alignments, including cadastral marks up and down the front, rear and adjoining streets, and sometimes on the opposite sides of those streets.  The survey may need to continue further afield until sufficient cadastral marks are located to facilitate the reinstatement.

Cadastral surveyors can often be faced with many challenges when it comes to reinstating property boundaries, however the biggest obstacle to overcome in terms of time, cost and accuracy is the disturbance or destruction of survey marks.  The financial ramifications can be dire to the community, but more so to the surveying industry who are typically burdened by these unforeseen costs.  If key reference marks are disturbed or destroyed, the surveyor may need to keep extending their survey until they can find reliable and relevant reference marks to facilitate the reinstatement.  The further the survey is extended, the more the accuracy and reliability of that boundary determination are compromised, thus highlighting the importance of completing an Ident plan of recovery marks prior to commencement of any construction work.

Like cadastral survey marks, the destruction of PSMs can have far-reaching ramifications to surveyors and the community as their use is not confined to their immediate or general vicinity.  PSMs that are part of the State horizontal and/or vertical control network could be used to carry out surveys within hundreds of metres and up to many kilometres of their physical location.  This highlights the importance of ensuring sufficient surveys are carried out post-construction to install, coordinate and/or level PSMs to suitably ensure the pre-construction horizontal and vertical control networks are maintained and not diminished.

Time does not heal old wounds when it comes to the interference of survey marks.  Without protecting or preserving survey marks the impact can have long-lasting ramifications for future users, well after the project is completed.  Increased survey costs resulting from the disturbance or destruction of survey marks are inevitably passed onto the public, be it landholders, developers, or consumers.  Aside from the perpetrator facing the prospect of hefty penalties, the public pays the price when those interfered with survey marks, are required for their next project.

How can local government assist?

Although survey marks fall under the jurisdiction of DNRME, it seems logical for local government to take ‘ownership’ of survey marks within their jurisdiction and treat them like any Council-owned asset.  Common compliance conditions across the State generally stipulate that if any Council owned assets are disturbed or destroyed during the development process than they must be suitably reinstated at the developer’s cost.  Why couldn’t the same principle apply for survey marks?

The ultimate goal is that one day the protection of survey marks will be a standard compliance condition of local authority development approvals across the State. This would create a formal procedure and consistent approach to ensure proactive measures are implemented prior to commencement of any construction activities and if remedial action is required after construction is completed. This would ensure the pre-construction survey control network is not diminished or compromised in any way.  A referral agency could review the proposed works against the existing survey network and confirm if and what mandatory action is required, to achieve compliance with the Act rather than relying on the public to be aware of their legal obligation and ultimately doing the right thing.

In the interim, a simple and efficient method to raise awareness to the public would be including Standard advisory clauses on all development approvals regarding the legislative requirements surrounding the interference of survey marks and encouraging pro-active measures to be actioned.  In addition, contract provisions and internal Council procedures could also be updated with similar wording to that effect.  Any means of local authorities informing their staff and their constituents of the importance and protection of survey marks is vital.  Resources such as the ‘Survey Marks’ section of the DNRME website and the Information Sheet released by the Queensland Land Surveying Commission of the Survey and Spatial Sciences Institute (SSSI) provide a simple and effective means of disseminating this information to the wider community.

Benefit to the community

Survey marks are a critical asset and the lifeblood of any construction or development project regardless of size, type, or location, across the state.  The blatant or reckless interference with survey marks will adversely impact someone, somewhere, sometime in the future, and the costs will always be significantly higher than if proactive measures were implemented, prior to any construction works commencing.  The protection or preservation of survey marks needs to be accepted as an investment in safeguarding the public’s interests.

From mums and dads to high-end users, no one is immune to the ill effects and costs of the disturbance or destruction of survey marks.  Someone will ultimately pay the price now or later.  It could be a landholder wanting an Ident survey done to erect a fence, or a site detail survey for a house extension.  It could be a developer carrying out a building project or land subdivision.  Or the cost could be borne by a construction company or authority carrying out a large-scale infrastructure project.  In the long run, the community will benefit from the protection and preservation of survey marks and costs will be substantially less in time, if early proactive measures are the norm, not the exception.

The protection of survey marks is in everyone’s best interests.  Without implementing appropriate proactive measures, damage to survey marks can be irreparable.  Always remember that survey marks destroyed today may be the survey marks required tomorrow.


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