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We know that Victoria has an ageing population and the need to provide quality, accessible and affordable accommodation for this growing demographic has never been greater. In response to the demands of this important sector, ratio: has been strongly pushing for Residential Aged Care Facilities (RACFs) to be recognised specifically by the VPPs to ensure they are assessed in a way that recognises their unique operational needs and distinct difference from an apartment development. Recognising this will facilitate a more streamlined approach for their assessment, resulting in the more efficient delivery of RACFs across the state.
Last week, the gazettal of Amendment VC152 saw just that; the introduction of a new Particular Provision to recognise the specific needs and requirements of RACFs.
While the introduction of a Particular Provision provides important new guidelines for the assessment of RACFs, probably the most significant change that Amendment VC152 brings is the removal of RACF from the broader land use term of ‘Residential Building’, which previously created significant issues for the assessment of RACFs, particularly within residential zones.
Notably, the former nesting of RACFs applied all of Clause 55 (ResCode) as well as applying mandatory height and garden area requirements that applied to ‘Residential Buildings’. These requirements no longer apply to RACFs within the General Residential Zone (GRZ) and Neighbourhood Residential Zone (NRZ). Instead, applications will be assessed against the new Particular Provision at Clause 53.17, which provides specific requirements with respect to matters such as height and site coverage. The Particular Provision also provides guidelines for RACF applications within the Residential Growth Zone (GRZ), Mixed Use Zone and Township Zone (TZ), recognising that the built form outcomes in these areas will be different to those within the lower scale residential zones.
So what are the new requirements? Given RACFs are a Section 1 Use within the abovementioned zones, the new provision focuses predominantly on built form. It seeks to recognise the commercial needs of these developments, which often relate to the need for additional building height, specific access arrangements and services unique to the operational functions of such facilities. At the heart of the clause is the requirement to protect residential amenity, with the clause drawing on the key amenity related Standards of Clause 55 such as side and rear setbacks and overshadowing.
The most significant requirement set out in this new provision relates to building height, which are as follows:
- In the Neighbourhood Residential Zone, General Residential Zone and Township Zone the maximum building height must not exceed 16 metres.
- In the Mixed Use Zone and Residential Growth Zone the maximum building height should not exceed 16 metres.
While mandatory in nature, the above height requirements provide greater flexibility for RACF applications, departing for the more stringent requirements of the GRZ, NRZ and TZ which typically limited building height to something in the order of 2-3 storeys and 9-11 metres. A more flexible approach is welcomed in the MUZ an RGZ where the height is discretionary, enabling a performance based assessment in areas where more intense development is envisaged.
With respect to the requirements of Clause 55, the provision draws on 15 of the ResCode Standards considered to be most relevant including things such as Street Setback, Side and Rear Setbacks, Walls on Boundary, Site Coverage, Access, Building Entry and Communal Open Space.
The amendment sensibly amends some aspects of the standards to more appropriately reflect the specific design requirements of RACFs. This includes a requirement that ‘the site area covered by buildings should not exceed 80 percent’ (as opposed to the typical 60%) and the need to provide access for service delivery vehicles and buses as well as communal open space for residents and staff.
A welcomed change to the overlooking requirements has been included, with screening requirements set at 1.2 metres, rather than the traditional 1.7 metres, providing for improved internal amenity outcomes for elderly residents.
Disappointingly, the gazetted Provision excludes exemptions from public notice that formed part of the Draft Provision, meaning that applications will continue to be subject to advertising and objections.
In terms of its application, inconsistent use of the words ‘must’ and ‘should’ in the zones and Clause 53.17 may create some confusion with respect to whether the requirements are mandatory or discretionary. Clause 53.17 does state ‘If there is any inconsistency between a requirement in this clause and a requirement in another provision of this planning scheme, this clause prevails’, however there may be some debate as to how some of the requirements are applied, particularly where the zone states that requirements ‘must’ be met.
There is no doubt that the gazettal of Amendment VC152 will assist our clients by providing greater flexibility for RACFs in the areas where these services are most needed. Previously bound by mandatory requirements and inappropriate assessment tools designed for dwellings, Council officers will now have clearer guidance when considering applications for RACFs and the scope for consideration can be limited to the most relevant matters. This is a big step in the right direction.
Author: Blanche Manuel, Associate: Planning