The Victorian Government’s Better Apartments Draft Design Standards (Draft Standards) have been released with confirmation that they will not impose a minimum lot size. The Draft Standards are out for comment until 19 September 2016 and can be accessed here (draft standards). 

Given they will affect development design to some degree, it is important that those in the development industry take some time to consider the changes before they are finalised. 

HOW WILL THE DRAFT STANDARDS WORK? 

They will work like the current ResCode (clause 55) planning scheme provisions, which currently only apply to smaller scale apartments (up to 4 storeys). Like the ResCode provisions, the Draft Standards will be included in the planning scheme and will impose standards which may be able to be deviated from where it can be demonstrated that an alternative design solution still achieves the relevant objective.   

WHAT DEVELOPMENTS WILL THE DRAFT STANDARDS APPLY TO?

As set out below, the extent to which the Draft Standards apply will depend on the nature of the development:

  • Apartments of 5 or more storeys: all of the Draft Standards will apply, although some of the requirements will only kick in for developments over a certain number of apartments or at certain building heights.
  • Apartments of up to 4 storeys: except for the standards relating to building setbacks and local context, all of the Draft Standards will apply and will be additional to the existing clause 55 ResCode provisions. 
  • Multi-unit developments: while the intent of the Draft Standards is clearly focussed on apartments, it is possible that some of these new standards will also apply to multi-unit developments (i.e. developments of multiple single storey dwellings), depending on the way in which the Draft Standards are incorporated into clause 55 of planning schemes. 

HOW WILL THE DRAFT STANDARDS BE ENFORCED? 

There is a new checkpoint proposed, with a new requirement for a registered architect or registered building designer to provide sign-off on compliance with the design standards at the building permit stage. 

This new checkpoint will be in addition to the requirement to achieve compliance with the Draft Standards at the planning permit stage. 

WHEN WILL THEY COME INTO FORCE?

Once the standards have been finalised, a minimum of three months’ notice will be provided prior to commencement. Transitional provisions are proposed to ensure that any applications lodged before the new standards take effect are assessed under the existing planning provisions.

It is anticipated that the apartment design guidelines will be introduced before the end of the year.

WHAT DO THE DESIGN STANDARDS REQUIRE AND WHAT WILL THAT MEAN IN PRACTICE?

While there are no minimum lot sizes proposed, the requirements will still impact on design and may have an ultimate effect on lot size, lot yield and building materials.

The key provisions of the Draft Standards include:

Building Setbacks

There are minimum setbacks from boundaries that increase with building height. For buildings up to 13.5 metres, the minimum setback is 6 metres. For heights of 13.5 to 25 metres, it is 9 metres, and for heights over 25 metres, 12 metres.

The minimum setbacks required between other buildings within the site is calculated at the above distances x 2.

Note: This may reduce the expected vertical building envelope.

Light wells

Light wells cannot be relied upon as a primary source of light. If they are included, they must meet minimum dimension requirements, be clear to the sky, painted a light reflective colour, and staggered with bedroom windows in separate dwellings. Light wells should not be incorporated in buildings which exceed 36 metres in height.

Room Depth

“Habitable rooms” (including bedrooms, living rooms, kitchen areas and studies) must not exceed a room depth to ceiling height ratio of 2:1 for south facing, single aspect dwellings or 2:5:1 for all other dwellings. 

Open plan layouts will allow for increased depth of up to 8 metres provided the kitchen is furthest from the window, the ceiling height is at least 2.7 metres and the dwelling is not a south facing, single aspect dwelling.

Windows

Each habitable room should have a window in an external wall of the building that is visible from any point in the room.

Note: This change will prevent snorkel rooms

Storage

Each dwelling must meet minimum storage space requirements (ranging from 6-10 cubic metres) depending on the number of rooms.  This is in addition to kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and other utility storage, and can be located internally or externally to the dwelling.

Noise

Noise should be mitigated by ensuring noise-sensitive rooms are located away from mechanical plant, such as elevators. Maximum noise thresholds in relation to noise from offsite sources apply in relation to bedrooms and living areas.

Note: This is the first time the planning scheme will set internal noise limits.  Acoustic attenuation measures may be required to exclude external noise. More treatment measures will potentially be required for apartments in noisy areas. 

Natural Ventilation

At least 60% of dwellings with a finished floor level less than 35 metres height should be naturally cross ventilated. Dwellings below 80 metres height must have openable windows or doors in an external wall of the building.

Private Open Space

Dwellings should have a private open space (with a minimum size requirement ranging from 8-12 square metres) in the form of a patio, podium, balcony or roof top area (with convenient access from a living room).

Note: Increased areas will be required for private open space.

Communal Open space

Developments with 20 or more dwellings should provide a minimum area of communal open space of 2.5 square metres per dwelling or 100 square metres, whichever is lesser. 

If appropriate, communal space should be located on the north side of a building and at least 50% of the space should receive direct sunlight for a minimum of two hours between 9am and 3pm.

Landscaping

New developments will have minimum landscaping requirements.  This includes a requirement for deep soil planting for trees (ranging from 5% of a 750 square metres site to 15% of a site of 2,500 square metres or more).

Note: This may cause site layout implications, including basement design. 

Other key standards and requirements include:

  • accessibility standards for persons with limited mobility;
  • energy efficiency measures to ensure appropriate use of solar energy;
  • waste management design and functionality standards;
  • efficient water management standards regarding the reuse and recycling of stormwater.