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As the population booms in Australia, particularly in the popular suburban areas, the need for quality childcare centres has grown considerably. In the three years between 2014 and 2017, the ‘Childhood Education and Care Survey’ indicates that the percentage of Victorian children (aged 0 – 5 years) using some form of extended day care grew from 25.8% to 31.1%, fuelling the argument for growing demand.
ratio: has been actively involved in facilitating positive outcomes for clients by providing expertise in the childcare sector. Assisting in both planning and traffic engineering services, ratio: can help through the planning permit application stage to providing expert evidence before Tribunals.
With our vast experience, we have a comprehensive understanding of the trends emerging in the childcare centre sector. One of the more general trends is that childcare facilities are being developed in residential areas rather than commercial centres, typically due to the availability of larger lands at lower prices making the services affordable. The local policy guiding its planning and development usually falls under one of two categories, either a generic ‘non-residential uses in residential areas’ policy or a ‘childcare centres’ specific policy. A factor common to both policies is that out-of-centre development is often discouraged unless specific locational criteria are met. Common locational characteristics deemed suitable by Councils (for the development of childcare facilities) include:
- Adjacent to or at the periphery of an activity centre
- Main road locations (Road Zone Category 1 or collector road)
- Corner sites
- Proximity to other non-residential uses
- Walking distance to public transport
- Where there is a demonstrated need
However, it has become evident through recent VCAT decisions that while local policy plays a role in the decision-making process and may discourage a site at a certain location, childcare centres are not a prohibited use under the provisions of the residential zones and therefore, require a more detailed assessment of the merits of the proposal. ‘Not being within a preferred location will place greater emphasis on the need for a proposal to respond to its local context and demonstrate that it is appropriate in that location’.
While it’s difficult to get approval for the centres in non-preferred locations, they are more likely to get approval if they retain the existing residential building, resulting in a smaller number of children at the centre. This bucks the trend we see emerging for double storey centres having more than 100 children. Neighbourhood character with specific regard to the streetscape also plays an important role in these circumstances. Therefore, ensuring that the treatment of the front setback (either landscaped or hard paved) and front fences are consistent with the surrounding area, helps in getting officer support.
Car Parking and Traffic Impacts
Car parking and traffic impacts are common concerns for residents for any non-residential use, and childcare centres are no different. Centres in non-preferred locations should ensure that all car parking requirements can be accommodated onsite and are hidden from the public realm (either at the rear of the site or a basement car park). A local street that already has non-residential traffic using it is less likely to feel the full impact of traffic associated with a childcare centre.
Key Features to Consider
Even if a site is able to meet the preferred locational criteria, there is still no guarantee of getting approval from the Council. Therefore, we recommend considering the following critical features (that help in obtaining approvals from the Councils) while planning childcare centres in residential zones:
- Two storey centres should have recessive upper levels and screened play areas should be articulated.
- Buildings should display a right level of articulation and visual interest without dominating the streetscape.
- Substantial landscaping should be included between the front setback and any adjoining any residential properties.
- Acoustic treatment of any outdoor play spaces at upper levels. Further acoustic treatment may be required at boundary fences depending on site location.
- Setbacks should be consistent with ResCode where the site adjoins residential properties.
- Buildings should respond to neighbourhood character policies despite not being a residential building.
- Tandem car parking spaces should be provided for staff only with any reduction in the standard car parking rate of 0.22 space per child subject to expert advice.
The demonstrable need is becoming more common in local policies, especially for those centres seeking to locate in residential areas or anywhere outside of an activity centre, although this is rarely a central consideration. The needs of existing and future communities should both be considered, with the preparation of needs analysis often beneficial.
If you have any queries or require assistance, please contact Hayley Vinecombe or your existing contact at ratio:.
Author: Hayley Vinecombe, Senior Planner
 Glen Eira Planning Scheme Amendment C123, Panel Report 18 June 2015, page 8