In May 2015, the Minister for Planning released a Discussion Paper looking at improving the design for apartment buildings. The paper acknowledged the challenges of providing approximately 480,000 additional apartments required to accommodate the projected population of 7.7 million people by 2051 and focused on developing design standards that will provide better amenity outcomes for both future occupants of new apartment buildings and residents in the surrounding areas.

Based on the submissions received, draft design standards were compiled and released for consideration in July 2016. A total of 16 draft standards have been developed, of which we discuss four (4) below that are likely to have the greatest influence on the design of future apartment buildings.

  • Building setbacks. This standard proposes new setbacks for buildings of five (5) or more storeys and includes additional setback requirements from existing buildings within the site. Providing greater setbacks between buildings will aid in allowing for increased daylight reaching habitable rooms, greater privacy for residents and help to reduce issues of visual bulk/dominance, however it will result in the need for larger sites being required to meet the required setbacks. It is noted that buildings four (4) storeys or less will continue to be assessed under Standard B17 of ResCode. Light wells.
  • Light wells are a common feature of apartment buildings and a useful way to maximise solar access for habitable rooms. This standard proposes minimum dimensions for light wells based on the height of the building, however it also states that buildings greater than 36 metres in height should not include a light well.
  • Room depths. This standard proposes the introduction of a room depth to ceiling height ratio to ensure that habitable rooms receive adequate amounts of daylight. In effect, the deeper the room, the higher the ceilings need to be to achieve adequate daylight.
  • Windows. This standard proposes a requirement that all habitable rooms should have a window in an external wall that is visible from any point in the room. A key component of this standard is that 'saddle back' arrangements would not meet the prescribed standard. As saddle back arrangements are commonly used in apartment dwellings, this standard will have a significant impact on floor layouts of dwellings and potentially the overall yield of a site.

In terms of the process moving forward, the draft design standards are currently open for public comment until 19 September 2016. At the completion of the public consultation period, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (the Department) will review all submissions and finalise the design standards for presentation to Cabinet.

Once the Cabinet has reviewed and approved the standards, they will be presented to the Minister for Planning for final approval with the goal to have the Standards approved and introduced into Planning Schemes by the end of this year.

There will be transitional provisions included to ensure that planning permit applications lodged before the new standards come into effect will continue to be assessed under the existing provisions applying at the time of lodgement.

Overall, we believe there will be implications for the overall yield of future apartment buildings, however we recognise the benefits associated with these standards as it could be argued that the current standards fall a bit short in some municipalities.

Please call Keen Planning on 9596 9000 if you have any questions regarding the design guidelines and their implications.

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