Better Apartments Draft Design Standards finally released

The Better Apartments Design Draft Standards have been released for final public comment, prior to their anticipated introduction later this year. Described as a ‘game changer’ by some, the release of the standards certainly grabbed our attention and we urge all practitioners who work with apartment buildings to get involved in the public consultation process.

The BDAV were part of a peak body set up by the Minister of Planning who along with the HIA, Master Builders Association and the Property Council provided feedback on the guideline’s development. A separate working group made up of Municipal Councils including Stonnington, Yarra, Moreland, as well as some regional and outer ring municipalities have also been involved in early consultation.

The catalyst for this review was the release of the Better Apartments – Discussion Paper back in May 2015, which highlighted perceptions of poorly designed apartments, in terms of solar access, acoustic properties, layout and ventilation in some locations. The working groups were given the opportunity to test and provide feedback on draft design measures earlier this year, and public comment is now invited on the final draft.

What is Changing?

The new guidelines will apply to residential developments over 5 storeys in height. Smaller developments will continue to be assessed under Rescode (Clause 55).

The design standards govern a range of design and amenity concerns, including;

  • Solar access
  • Room depth and dimensions
  • Communal open space/ balconies
  • Noise impact management
  • Accessibility
  • Waste management

Some standards have been adapted from corresponding Rescode requirements, while other have been created from scratch. For example, changes to the setback standards would see buildings up to 13.5 m required to be setback 6 m from side and rear boundaries. For a 25 m building, this setback could increase to 12 m, which would have significant implications on yield for many apartment developments. Please note that the setback requirements for buildings under four storeys will continue to be governed by Rescode Standard B 17.

The new standards also discourage the reliance upon borrowed light for admitting solar access, with a standard increasing the required size of lightwells to a minimum 3 x 3 m, and saddleback and snorkel style solar access banned. Crossovers from the building regulations would mandate room depth ratios relative to ceiling height, and interestingly south facing rooms having different requirements to other orientations, in a nod to an enhanced emphasis on sustainability.

Other Notable Points

Previously mooted minimum apartment size requirements have been scrapped.

Apartments of 5 or more storeys will still need an Urban Context Report under Clause 52.35 to be supplied, and the premise of a site-specific design response still applies. Overlay controls will also continue to apply.

Implementation and Process Changes

It is envisaged that once adopted, implementation will involve training of local government planners and building design professionals in how to interpret the provisions; the development of state-wide Guidelines to replace the existing Guidelines for Higher Density Residential Development; and finally the introduction of VPPs containing objectives, standards and design guidelines into the Planning Scheme. Like Clause 55 (Rescode) an objective will need to be met but the numeric standard associated with the objective could be varied or reduced with the permission of Council.

A new post-planning step will require a registered building designer to verify that apartment design measures proposed at the planning stage have been implemented into the building permit.

Transition into the new Guidelines

Seasoned practitioners will be sensitive to the implications of the new provisions and their impact upon existing applications. The introduction of the new residential zones in 2014, and the weak or non-existent transitional provisions afforded to them created heartache for designers (and Councils) all over the State, and scuttled many otherwise viable projects. We have been advised that the transition to new apartment guidelines will be gradual, with three month’s notice given prior to their introduction, and transitional provisions ensuring existing permit applications lodged before the implementation of the new provisions are assessed under the old rules. We caution that practitioners should stay abreast of updates and changes in the apartment guidelines, and urge their clients to do the same.

How will the New Guidelines Affect your Practice?

Practitioners are urged to check out the draft guidelines here and make a submission on the guidelines, how they will be implemented, and any issues you believe could arise from the changes. Submissions on the draft standards are due by 19 September 2016, and the final standards are anticipated to be introduced around December 2016.

If you have any queries regarding the above article(s) please contact Clause 1 Planning

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