In brief: Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne has made his views on apartments known through comments to the media and at industry events about small apartments where he can touch the ceiling and where the shower is over the toilet. Mr Wynne has now released a discussion paper on 'better apartments'. Managing Associate Meg Lee (view CV)examines the key issues raised by the paper.

CONTEXT

In Focus: The Low Down on Tall Towers, we examined Leanne Hodyl's Churchill Fellowship Report on high-rise building densities,1and foreshadowed that one of the responses of Mr Wynne was likely to be the release of minimum apartment standards.

The release of the Better Apartments: A Discussion Paper comes six months after a copy of the Office of Victorian Government Architect (OVGA) draft Apartment Standards was leaked to the media last year. The OGVA had been conducting targeted stakeholder engagement on the amenity of apartments in Victoria. The Discussion Paper states that the background work done by the OGVA has informed the Discussion Paper and also brings together some of the issues raised during consultation and submissions on Plan Melbourne.

It is understood that the leaked OVGA standards were based on the NSW policy, SEPP 65, which includes minimum apartment sizes for one-, two- and three-bedroom units, and mandates that an architect design all high-rise projects. Notably, the NSW Government is also considering amendments to SEPP 65,2 together with a new Apartment Design Guide (which will replace the existing Residential Flat Design Code), to potentially improve apartment design further and make apartments more affordable.

Mr Wynne is clearly keen to consult with stakeholders before introducing any new minimum standards or strict controls and has called for industry submissions on the options and questions raised in the Discussion Paper. Therefore any new requirements are not likely to be in place until the end of the first quarter of 2016.

DETAIL

The Discussion Paper's scope is not limited to CBD apartments, nor is it limited to apartment developments of a certain number or height. It poses questions on which it is seeking feedback under 14 different headings, including: daylight, sunlight, outlook, space, natural ventilation, noise, outdoor space, adaptability, landscape, universal design, energy and resources, waste, car parking and entry/circulation.

On the issue of apartment size or 'space', the discussion on space poses questions as to whether:

  • there should be minimum apartment sizes set;
  • there should be minimum ceiling heights; and
  • whether there should be requirements for larger developments to include different types of housing. 

By way of background on the issue of minimum apartment size, the Discussion Paper refers to Charter Keck Cramer research carried out for the Planning Department that, of a sample of 10,373 apartments currently being marketed or constructed, 43 per cent have one bedroom and only 7 per cent of those are less than 40 square metres.

The Discussion Paper distinguishes between the issue of daylight and sunlight, noting that direct sunlight entering into an apartment provides heat and light and promotes wellbeing. Questions for submissions include asking which spaces in an apartment are the most important in terms of access to daylight.

The Discussion Paper does not directly address the issue of tower separation distances, but rather includes this as part of its discussion on 'outlook'. In this context, the paper asks for submissions on whether living spaces should be treated differently to other spaces in regard to outlook, but doesn't specifically seek feedback on tower separation, nor on what tools can be used to better manage this in the central city context.

On the issue of outdoor spaces, the paper distinguishes between private and common outdoor areas and seeks feedback on whether all apartments should be required to have balconies and whether it is acceptable for air-conditioning units to be on balconies. What the Discussion Paper does not directly address or seek feedback on is the issue of whether large apartment developments should provide a contribution to community facilities or public (as opposed to communal) open space. This was a point raised by the Hodyl Report and may be the subject of further discussion papers or work by the City of Melbourne.

NEXT STEPS

The release of the Better Apartments Discussion Paper will no doubt elicit much debate in the property development sector and will raise concerns about the impact that setting any minimum standards will have on apartment supply and affordability (which is another issue about which the Minister has expressed concern).

Submissions on the Discussion Paper are open until the end of July and stakeholder consultation will then occur in July and August.

The Discussion Paper does not state a preference for implementation options but instead invites comment on the best mechanism from three broad options:

  • regulatory minimum standards implemented through the planning schemes;
  • performance-based standards and guidelines such as a 'ResCode' for apartments; or
  • policy-based standards by way of revising the Higher Density Guidelines.

Implementation options will be developed following the stakeholder forums during the last quarter of 2015.