Guidelines and standards for apartment design are being debated rigorously in the planning industry with the release in May by the State Government of the Better Apartments discussion paper.  A panel of four industry experts engaged in a lively debate at a UDIA forum last week.

Christine Wyatt, Deputy Secretary of DELWP, introduced the topic and gave a brief overview of the process thus far.  She encouraged everyone to get involved in the discussion as the Minister for Planning with the support of the Department of Environment, Water and Planning (DELWP) is in the consultative phase of the process and is seeking feedback from the development industry and the general public.

507_03-11-2011_3695The panel comprised four industry experts: Craig Yelland (Plus Architecture), Nicola Foxworthy (Common Equity Housing), David Waldren (Grocon) and Marcus Spiller (SGS Economics).  Questions from the chairperson and the audience sparked a strong debate, with a range of differing viewpoints expressed throughout the discussion.

Craig Yelland sees no reason to change the existing planning controls applicable to apartment developments.  He believes that the current system rewards good design by permitting development above discretionary controls where an exemplary design is proposed.  According to Craig, the NSW SEPP 65 regulations have made finding a suitable site in Sydney and developing a feasible scheme incredibly difficult, subsequently driving up the cost of apartments.

Apartments - CarltonIn complete contrast to Craig, David Waldren was in favour of guidelines and minimum standards, and mentioned that Grocon uses SEPP 65 as a benchmark for its Melbourne developments, believing that it facilitates a high standard of housing.  He said that minimum apartment standards would provide a level playing field for all developers, clearly setting out expectations.  While Nicola did not agree that mandatory standards were necessary or beneficial in all instances, she was supportive of some guidance for apartment proposals to ensure that all housing, including affordable housing, provides reasonable amenity to occupants.

Marcus Spiller believes that the internal specifications of apartments should be left to the market to determine with only the aspects of apartment development that affect public amenity being regulated.

Apartments - north melbourneWhile we share some of concerns raised by the panel regarding the implications for housing affordability if minimum standards are mandated, we believe that some guidance is necessary to ensure that a reasonable level of amenity is provided to all apartment dwellers.  A performance based system that rewards innovative design can still be achieved while setting out clear expectations for apartment developments under a new set of guidelines.

We will be keen to see the process unfold over the coming months and look forward to seeing the first draft of the guidelines in 2016.    The Commons