International trade is growing and with it, the proportion of containerised goods. The demand for land on which to store shipping containers continues to grow with these trends.
Containerised trade and facilities that support this trade are critical to Victoria’s economy. Shipping container storage and other facilities that handle shipping containers can have significant transport and environmental impacts where they adjoin sensitive uses or use transport routes in or near sensitive areas.
The advice in this practice note can inform planning decisions about shipping container storage as well as other land uses that involve shipping container handling, such as a transport terminal.
What is a shipping container?
Shipping containers are large, usually rectangular-shaped, units that are used or are capable of being used to carry goods for transport by sea, road, rail or air. Shipping containers used in international trade are of standard sizes and dimensions to facilitate their easy transfer from one transport mode to another. The most common shipping container transported by sea, road or rail is either 6.1 or 12.2 metres (20 or 40 feet) long by 2.4 metres (8 feet) wide and 2.6 metres (8 feet 6 inches) high.
The industry commonly refers to a shipping container as a TEU if it is 20 feet long, or a 2TEU if it is 40 feet long. TEU means twenty foot equivalent unit.
What is shipping container storage?
‘Shipping container storage’ is a land use term in clause 73.03 of all Victorian planning schemes, which is defined as:
‘Land used to store shipping containers. It may include the cleaning, repair, servicing, painting or fumigation of the shipping containers.’
The shipping containers may be empty or full.
The storage of shipping containers on a site does not necessarily mean that the land is being used for shipping container storage. The storage of shipping containers may be ancillary or incidental to another use of the land.
If the primary purpose of the land use is to store shipping containers, the definition of shipping container storage applies.
If the land is to be used primarily for some other purpose, another definition in the planning scheme may apply, such as ‘transport terminal or industry’.
Other purposes could be to:
assemble or distribute containerised goods; or
manufacture goods made from parts stored in shipping containers on the land.
If the land is to be used for more than one purpose, for example, to store shipping containers and to assemble and distribute goods, and one use will not be more dominant than the other, it is possible that more than one land use term may apply. The use and development controls applying to each land use term must be met.
What planning scheme provisions apply to shipping container storage?
The planning scheme provisions that apply to shipping container storage include:
Relevant provisions may also be included in the municipal planning strategy (MPS) and local planning policies of the PPF.
Municipal planning strategy
The MPS sets out the vision for the future development of the municipality. It may include strategic directions for industry and business that are relevant to a shipping container storage proposal.
Planning policy framework
The PPF provides the broad policy framework for use and development in planning schemes. It includes state planning policies,both statewide and regional, and local planning policies (LPP).
The responsible authority (usually the council) must take into account and give effect to PPF policies when planning for shipping container storage.
A proposal for shipping container storage can be considered in many zones including in the port zone (PZ), and in general industrial areas or areas where there is a mixture of manufacturing industry and associated commercial or industrial uses. These are the:
Industrial 1 zone (IN1Z)
Industrial 2 zone (IN2Z)
Industrial 3 zone (IN3Z)
Commercial 2 zone (C2Z, sometimes shown on the planning scheme map as B3Z or B4Z).
There are two types of zones where shipping container storage may be established or expanded.
Zones where a planning permit is not required to use land for shipping container storage if a proposal meets certain conditions. The PZ and IN1Z fall into this category.
The conditions that must be met are set out in section 1 of the 'Table of uses' in the zone.
If one or more of these conditions cannot be met, the use is a section 2 use and requires a permit. The conditions seek to support shipping container storage by:
facilitating adequate separation from sensitive uses, so uses such as dwellings, hospitals and schools are not affected by adverse environmental effects, nuisances or hazards
encouraging the use on land that has access to the major road network
ensuring that the height and setbacks of shipping container stacks on sites adjoining highly visible major roads:
are in keeping with the scale of development expected in the zone
provide sufficient space for an effective landscape treatment
ensuring that where the use may create adverse amenity impacts, a permit will be needed to assess the nature of those impacts.
If a permit is not required, the applicant should demonstrate to the council’s satisfaction that the proposal meets the zone requirements before a business is established or expanded on the land.
Zones where a planning permit is required to use land for shipping container storage. These include the C2Z (B3Z, B4Z), IN2Z and IN3Z.
Buildings and works
In industrial and commercial zones, and the port zone, a permit is required to construct a building or carry out works. Shipping containers as well as some minor works and plant rearrangements are exempt from a permit in the port zone. See the zone provisions and clause 62.02 for details.
Unless a new building is proposed to be constructed on the site or an existing building is proposed to be extended, a requirement for a permit to construct a building would not apply.
A permit may be required to construct or carry out works associated with shipping container storage. This includes levelling works or cut and fill that change the topography of the land.
Clause 53.07 contains decision guidelines that highlight the key planning considerations about the location, use, design and operation of shipping container storage, including:
suitability of the site for shipping container storage
effect on the amenity and character of the neighbourhood
whether the site layout is designed to avoid or reduce significant off-site effects
need for landscaping to screen or soften the appearance of the site
adequacy of traffic management measures.
An applicant should supply sufficient information to enable a responsible authority to consider these matters.
Clause 53.07 does not apply to land that is in a port zone or special use zone that has been established for port and port-related activities. Special provisions apply to these areas, as set out in the zone or its schedule.
The land may also be affected by other provisions in the planning scheme, such as an overlay. The council can advise which planning scheme provisions apply.
Shipping containers used in international trade are unloaded at ports and moved through a series of steps in the transport chain for unpacking, cleaning, repair, servicing, storage, repacking and export. These activities can occur at dispersed sites and tend to generate high volumes and frequency of truck traffic.
The impacts of truck traffic on surrounding land uses may include:
reduced traffic safety, due to conflicts between different types of traffic
noise from vehicles
vehicular air pollution, particularly from older trucks
vibrations, due to moving or idling trucks or poorly secured vehicle loads
road congestion, due to trucks queuing on roads.
The severity of these impacts varies according to the:
sensitivity of the location
volume and speed of vehicles,
type and standard of road surface
time of day.
To avoid or minimise these impacts, a proposal for shipping container storage should be located to:
have safe and convenient access to:
freeways or major roads that are designed to carry truck traffic; or
local roads that principally serve industrial areas
ideally have access to rail services, to reduce the amount of truck traffic on the road network
avoid truck traffic through residential areas and other areas where there are sensitive uses, such as schools
avoid congestion along roads and at road intersections.
Roads to the site should be of adequate dimensions and constructed to an appropriate standard. This is to accommodate the type and volume of vehicle movements that will be generated by the proposal.
Land uses surrounding the site should be compatible industrial uses or others that will not be adversely affected by shipping container handling operations. Sites adjoining or near residential or other sensitive uses should be avoided.
The site should be of an adequate size and dimensions to accommodate the proposed activities and any measures needed to avoid or minimise off-site impacts. A site should have capacity to:
accommodate the expected maximum volume of shipping containers
accommodate on-site access, queuing, setbacks, waste storage and work areas
respond to the site layout and other considerations below.
The layout of the site should provide for safe and efficient vehicle manoeuvring, access and egress. All vehicles should be able to enter and exit the site in a forward direction.
Before a shipping container is unloaded or stored on the site, its details are recorded. This is usually the first stopping point for trucks entering the site. The office or ‘gatehouse’ where these details are recorded, and internal vehicle access lanes, should be located to maximise truck queuing on-site. The amount of truck-queuing space provided on-site should take into account the:
maximum hourly rate of truck movements into and out of the site
timing of peak delivery periods
function, capacity and safety of roads to the site, particularly during peak periods.
Parking and queuing areas for trucks should be clearly defined and separated from car parking spaces.
Shipping container storage and outdoor waste storage and work areas should be set back from road boundaries and screened to avoid or minimise any adverse impacts on the streetscape and adjoining sensitive uses. This screening may be by buildings, landscaping or fencing.
Lighting should be carefully located and baffled to ensure that all public areas are well-lit at night without causing a nuisance to surrounding land uses.
Landscaping should be provided along road boundaries and be of sufficient width to screen storage, waste and work areas from view.
The scale and height of new buildings should have regard to the scale and height of nearby buildings.
Buildings and car parking areas should be designed to address the street and minimise the use of the front part of the site for storage.
The scale and height of shipping container stacks should have regard to the scale and height of nearby buildings.
Shipping container stacks should be located at the rear of the site where possible, unless the rear of the site abuts a sensitive use.
Shipping containers stacked adjacent to landscaped areas or along property boundaries should be stacked in a tiered or pyramid formation to reduce their visual bulk.
The risk of falling shipping containers is a workplace safety issue that an applicant should consider when planning the height and layout of shipping container stacks and vehicle access arrangements. Potential causes of falling shipping containers include:
high wind speeds
ground surface subsidence
vibrations caused by vehicle movements
inadequate spacing between stacks for forklift operations.
Suggested techniques for reducing the risk include:
aligning the longitudinal axis of shipping containers with the predominant wind direction
providing separation distances* between shipping container stacks and:
vehicle access lanes
amenities and work areas
work areas on adjoining sites.
stacking shipping containers in a tiered or pyramid formation where practicable
providing sufficient space between stacks for forklifts, mobile cranes and other vehicles to manoeuvre safely
ensuring that shipping container stacking areas are level, well-compacted and durable.
*The required separation distance will vary depending on the height of the stack.
The type of landscaping provided should have regard to the:
size of the site
height and scale of buildings on or near the site
conditions required for the planting to achieve optimum and healthy growth.
Landscape areas used to screen or soften the appearance of shipping container stacks or waste storage areas should be of sufficient dimensions to accommodate effective screen planting, such as combinations of dense shrubs and high branching taller trees.
Narrow landscape areas that are difficult to maintain should be avoided.
Perimeter fencing should be integrated into the landscape design for the site.
Buildings and car parking areas should be designed to minimise fencing on front boundaries. If front boundary fencing cannot be avoided, the fencing should complement the streetscape character.
Airborne particles and fumes should be contained onsite and away from sensitive uses. These can result from activities such as:
shipping container cleaning
Noise can result from:
the use of mechanical equipment
the cleaning, repair and servicing of shipping containers
the loading and unloading of shipping containers.
Measures for reducing noise impacts should be employed, including:
locating noise-producing activities and refrigerated shipping containers well within the site
Areas used for truck and car vehicle movements and parking, such as access and queuing lanes, should be formed and constructed of concrete or some other durable material.
Crossovers should be constructed of concrete and wheel-wash equipment or wheel grates provided to reduce the transfer of dust and soil onto roads.
To minimise the creation of dust and mud, areas used to stack shipping containers should be constructed of an all-weather surface to withstand shipping container loads and lifting equipment. The site should also provide for on-site stormwater infiltration and water sensitive urban design within the site.
Any industrial waste storage and handling must meet the requirements set out in the Environment Protection Regulations 2021. Information about measures to minimise the impact of these activities can be found via:
If shipping containers or vehicles are proposed to be washed on-site, a wash bay constructed of concrete or other impervious and durable material, should be provided. Waste from wash bays must be filtered and drain into a public sewer via a settlement and oil separation system. The system must follow the Environment Protection Act 2017 and be installed to the satisfaction of the responsible authority.
Shipping containers and vehicles should be washed only in the wash bays.
Any chemicals proposed to be used or stored on the site should be used and stored safely in accordance with the Dangerous Goods Act 1985.
Preparing a planning permit application for shipping container storage
Delays in the planning permit application process can be avoided if accurate and clear information about the proposal is provided. The information helps council to understand what is proposed and provide accurate advice about whether a permit is required, what a permit is required for and the planning scheme provisions that apply.
The application may need to include some or all of the following information. This will depend on the nature of the proposal and what the permit is required for. To check what information should be provided, talk to a planner at the council.
The location plan should be to a scale no less than 1:500 and show:
the full site area
the boundaries and dimensions of the site
rail access, if relevant
surrounding land uses
distance from sensitive uses, such as housing.
The plans for the development should comprise:
detailed plans at a scale of 1:100, 1:200 or 1:250 showing:
relevant ground levels
the layout of existing and proposed buildings and works
proposed landscape areas
crossovers, driveways and vehicle parking, truck queuing and loading areas
shipping container storage areas and proposed stack heights
any repair and servicing areas
any wash bays and waste treatment areas
goods delivery and waste storage areas
elevation drawings, especially for buildings, shipping container stacks and fencing visible from public roads and nearby sensitive uses
details of building materials, colours and finishes
a landscape layout that shows the vegetation to be planted and any stormwater management and treatment infrastructure, paving and site works
construction details of all drainage works, driveways, vehicle parking, goods delivery, truck queuing and loading areas
location and design of lighting.
The plans should be drawn to scale, be of a reasonable drafting standard and include a north point and relevant dimensions.
A short report
The report should provide:
a general description of the proposal, including:
a description of the type and quantity of shipping containers to be stored
the expected volume and type of vehicle movements to and from the site per day
the routes (over an agreed distance) proposed or likely to be used by trucks to and from the site
the hours of operation
an explanation of how any land not required for immediate use is to be maintained
the landscape response, including the proposed method of preparing, watering and maintaining the landscape area
an explanation of why the site is suitable for the use, including:
how the proposal supports the PPF (including any relevant industrial development LPP)
the capacity and suitability of the surrounding road network to accommodate the type and volume of traffic to be generated by the proposal
the capacity and suitability of the site to contain significant off-site impacts, and accommodate the intended use, including the maximum number of shipping containers that can be stored and processed on-site
likely environmental and amenity effects on the neighbourhood
how the proposal has been designed to avoid or minimise any adverse off-site impacts (for example, due to noise, fumes, dust, light, stormwater run-off, vibration or appearance)
how the proposal responds to the purpose and decision guidelines of the zone and clause 53.07 and any overlays.
Planning permit conditions
If the responsible authority decides to grant a permit to use or develop land for shipping container storage, it may include specific conditions on the permit. The conditions must be reasonable, relate to the planning permission being granted, fulfil a planning purpose and be in plain English.
The council may seek to address use and development matters relevant to shipping container storage in planning permit conditions.
location and heights of shipping container stacks
maximum volume of shipping containers to be stored
repairs and servicing
hours of operation.
landscape provision and maintenance
drainage and associated stormwater infrastructure
vehicle access arrangements
This publication may be of assistance to you but the State of Victoria and its employees do not guarantee that the publication is without flaw of any kind or is wholly appropriate for your particular purposes and therefore disclaims all liability for any error, loss or other consequence which may arise from you relying on any information in this publication.