Following the Better Apartments – A Discussion Paper (May 2015) and the Better Apartments Public Engagement Report (December 2015), the Victorian Government has now released the long awaited Better Apartments Draft Design Standards (Draft Standards). Partner Meg Lee and lawyer Linda Choi highlight the key proposals.

The Draft Standards aim to raise the quality of apartment design in Victoria by introducing minimum standards for a range of matters relating to the internal amenity and design of apartments. There will be an entirely new set of standards for apartments over 5 storeys replacing the Higher Density Development Guidelines referenced in the Victoria Planning Provisions (VPP) and some new standards for apartments up to 4 storeys to be added to the existing provisions under Clause 55. Clause 52.35 will continue to apply, requiring an urban context report for 5 storey developments.

What are the key features?

The Draft Standards contain both measurable standards that are quite prescriptive and qualitative provisions relating to matters such as landscaping, natural ventilation and energy efficiency.

Of particular note, the prescriptive provisions do not include minimum apartment sizes. Many initially had concerns that minimum sizes would lead to increase in costs and have a significant impact on affordability. Nonetheless, there are a number of minimum standards, which will have the effect of influencing and leading to larger apartment sizes. These include:

  • larger building setbacks, for habitable rooms to boundaries, which increase with the building height;
  • minimum light well sizes, which again increase with the building height;
  • prohibition on bedrooms with borrowed light, including 'snorkel' rooms;
  • increased storage requirements of 6m3 for 1 bedroom, 8m3 for 2 bedroom and 10m3 for 3 bedroom apartments;
  • minimum depth (8m) from a window and height (2.7m) of a room for daylight purposes;
  • minimum private open space requirements of 8 m2 for 1 bedroom, 10 m2 for 2 bedroom and 12m2 for 3 bedroom apartments;
  • energy efficiency and waste management requirements;
  • requirement for 60% of apartments up to 35 m high to be naturally cross-ventilated; and
  • minimum standards for acoustic protection from mechanical plants and non-residential uses.

The Draft Standards also require a registered architect or building designer to verify that all relevant apartment design matters continue to be met through the building permit process.

How will it be implemented?

The proposed design standards will be introduced thorough a new particular provision in the VPP and will adopt the same performance-based approach currently use under Recode (Clause 55) to assess multi-dwelling residential development in the planning scheme. This means each provision will be accompanied by objectives, standards and decision guidelines, which the relevant authority will consider. Opportunities to vary the standards are therefore available if justifiable.

There will be a minimum 3 months' notice before the Draft Standards come into force with transitional provisions, which will ensure that applications lodged before the introduction of new standards will be assessed under the existing provisions, and no doubt leading to an influx of applications during the 3 months period prior to introduction. The final version of the Standards is expected by December 2016. What will this mean for industry?

Many in the development industry expect that the new standards will impact apartment yield and building costs and therefore affordability for consumers.

On the other hand, the new standards provide much needed clarity and certainty on a range of issues, which have often been at the centre of dispute at the Tribunal between developers and authorities. It also addresses long-term liveability and sustainability, which are vital considerations for our growing cities, particularly as Melbourne is expected to reach 8 million by 2051. Apartments will therefore continue to be important part of the housing supply matrix. Submission on the Draft Standards can be made until 19th September. Draft Standards can be accessed and submissions can be made at http://haveyoursay.delwp.vic.gov.au/better-apartments.