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23 March 2021

Better Apartments – What are the Key Changes?

Since Ratio’s recent article discussing the ‘preview’ of the Apartment Design Guidelines for Victoria 2021, the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) has hosted a briefing session with DELWP providing more detail on the proposed guidelines.  The Apartment Design Guidelines are a refresh of the existing Better Apartment Design Standards (commonly known as BADS).

DELWP has indicated that these updates are proposed to be gazetted to Planning Schemes in approximately two months with transitional provisions likely to be included for current or approved proposals.

The key themes and updated provisions as part of this process include:

  • Provision of private and communal space
  • Wind Impacts
  • External Materials

Private v Communal

The updates seek to realign apartment open space focus from being provided as primarily private open space (balconies etc) to a greater emphasis on communal open space. Communal open space will be required for all apartment developments with 10+ dwellings (down from 40+). Balconies over 40m above NGL are now able to be provided as additional internal space, should wind conditions make external balconies potentially unsafe.

Craig Yelland from property advisory firm Yelland Co says ‘Unfortunately, the government fails to recognise that a high percentage of apartment dwellers (myself included) choose to live in smaller apartment blocks (mine has 20 apartments) because they want to avoid a building with common areas and high Owners Corporation fees. ‘

The updates also seek to reorient the way we consider these open spaces. Communal open space is required to have a minimum outside landscaped area of 30 sqm and changes in deep soil and planter box soil requirements will make the communal open space an area with greater tree canopy coverage. 

The proposed ratio for communal open space is a base requirement of 30sqm for all development of 10+ dwellings and 2.5sqm for every dwelling above the first twelve dwellings. Ie A 13 dwelling development is required to provide 32.5 sqm of communal open space.

Requirements for balconies will be updated to consider the orientation of the balcony and to achieve better daylight access to apartment windows.

Other updates

Other key updates relate to:

-          Wind Impacts

-          External Walls and Materials

The new wind impacts objective is to ensure that the development does not create unacceptable wind impacts on or off the site. Wind impact assessments are commonplace requirement for larger apartment developments however the objective will require an assessment of wind impacts for all relevant apartment development. Most planners are not equipped to adequately assess this. A draft Planning Practice Note (PPN93) has been released to assist planners with this objective, however it appears that a wind assessment is likely to be required for all apartments developments that trigger a BADS assessment.

The new external walls and materials objective pairs with updates to the integration with the street, access and site services objectives. These updates are all aimed at improving the integration and presentation of the development to the street. We note that these updates appear to formalise assessments that already occur for most apartment development applications.

Improved amenity v cost

It is widely acknowledged that Housing affordability is a significant issue for Victoria, an issue that the state government is attempting to tackle with the commendable Big Housing Build Program.  We suggest that to achieve increased amenity, the Apartment Design Guidelines for Victoria 2021 could result in higher costs for small to mid-scale apartment buildings.

While we clearly agree that good amenity is key in new residential development, we are interested in whether the increased cost of these requirements has been adequately considered in the preparation of these changes. For example, under current BADS an apartment building with 39 dwellings is not required to provide communal open space whereas under the proposed updated BADS a 30-dwelling apartment building will need to provide 75 sqm of communal open space with 30 sqm of that landscaped with a minimum canopy tree area. This will result in reduced yield for mid-scale apartment developments and therefore a greater cost for the future purchasers of apartments, including body corporate fees.

A greater focus on retaining tree canopy and providing communal spaces is commended, however without additional height allowances, the objectives are likely to lead to higher apartment costs.

Mr. Yelland also says ‘The counter argument to this is that the developer simply pays less for the site. However, most sites have a residual land use (eg a house or a shop). If the developer cannot pay more than an investor, who wants to keep the site as is, then the development doesn’t happen. Supply goes down. Prices go up.’

Ratio would welcome a conversation with relevant stakeholders on how to best achieve improved amenity outcomes without increasing Victoria’s already significant housing affordability issue.

 

Author: Andrew Guthrie, Senior Planner

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