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Australia’s population is rapidly growing but it is also ageing. The median age of Australians increased since the last census and there has also been an increase in the proportion of the population aged 65 years and over. Our city is not only faced with the challenge of providing accessible and affordable housing, it is also faced with a challenge to provide a diversity of housing that meets the needs of our ageing population.
While the planning scheme currently recognises and defines uses such as Residential Aged Care facilities, Retirement Villages and Residential Villages, there are current gaps in the way Victorian Planning Schemes deal with these uses, which limits the ability to streamline applications and deliver this much needed accommodation.
Though opportunities exist for aged care and retirement living in growth areas, much of the demand is in the middle ring suburbs where there is established infrastructure, strong population growth and a desire for people to age-in-place. Much of the suitable land is situated in the more restrictive residential zones (e.g. Neighbourhood Residential Zone and General Residential Zone) where council and community expectations place strong emphasis on protecting neighbourhood character.
While the NRZ and GRZ include Residential Aged Care as a ‘Section 1 – no permit required’ use, it broadly falls under the definition ‘Residential Buildings’ – a use that is subject to the mandatory height and garden area requirements introduced by Amendment VC110. In an NRZ, this limits an aged care facility to 9 metres and 2 storeys. These developments are also to be assessed against Clause 55, an assessment tool designed for typical residential development (dwellings). Interestingly, a Retirement Village or Residential Village (a complementary form of housing) are standalone uses that are not subject to the mandatory requirements that apply to a ‘Residential Building’.
The challenge is this: these facilities are not the same as a typical residential development. They provide a high level of care that requires purpose built buildings that can accommodate the specific operational requirements of the facility. This includes services, loading / unloading requirements and communal facilities, all off which result in a very particular design response. It is important that the planning schemes recognise this and exemptions needs to be made that allow these uses into residential zones, where they are needed. Why should other community services such as retirement villages, medical centres or childcare centres be exempt from mandatory height requirements but aged care facilities are not?
Controls should be tailored to Aged Care Facilities and should acknowledge that they have different requirements in relation to layout, internal amenity, external amenity (e.g. screening devices and private open space requirements).
These queries were raised by the Managing Residential Development Advisory Committee in their July 2016 report, where they outlined that there is clear, strong support to facilitate the provision of residential aged care facilities to meet future needs. In summary, their findings were;
- There is strong policy support at a State level to facilitate the provision of residential aged care facilities and to enable ‘ageing in place’.
- Maximum building height controls in the current suite of residential zones do not adequately reflect State policy support for facilitating residential aged care facilities.
- Residential aged care facilities should be excluded from the maximum building heights in the Neighbourhood Residential, General Residential, Residential Growth and Township Zones.
While the Committee was of the view that separate advisory committee was not required to investigate ways to accelerate the delivery of aged care facilities, these recommendations didn’t make it into the final cut of VC110, with the State Government indicating that it will be (amongst other things), establishing a working group to ‘identify the best way to integrate these facilities in local neighbourhoods’.
With the recent ‘refresh’ of Plan Melbourne, the introduction of the Better Apartment Design Standards (BADS) and the recent release of the ‘Homes for Victorians’, there is clear industry recognition that these issues need to be addressed sooner rather than later.
So, where to from here? Recent discussions with DEWLP indicate that they are currently in the process of putting together a proposal for the Minister. However, the development of this proposal and specific working groups do not appear to be progressing at a pace that will see any actual change in the near future.
Ratio has been involved in providing feedback to the state government with respect to the residential zones and we will continue to participate in these important conversations to ensure we can keep our clients up to date with any meaningful developments in this space.
Should you have any queries, please get in touch with Blanche Manuel or your existing contact at ratio: