The president of the Building Designers Association of NSW at the time of the announcement of SEPP 65, in 2001, Alan Smith, responds below to suggestions they missed an opportunity to form a national collective voice.

Click here to read here the article describing why the NSW regulations around Design Quality of Residential Flat Development are considered a driving force behind the formation last year of the National Association of Building Designers (NABD).


In a recent article in Architecture & Design Newsletter (25 November 2014) the National President of the National Association of Building Designers made a number of comments regarding the introduction in New South Wales of State Environmental Planning Policy No 65 – Design Quality of Residential Flat Development (SEPP65).

As State President of the Building Designers Association of NSW (BDANSW) at the time of the announcement of SEPP65, until the end of the submission period in September 2001, I feel I am qualified to respond to the comments made.

One of these comments was ‘the implementation of NSW’s 2002 State Environment Planning Policy No. 65 (SEPP 65) …. (was) a missed opportunity for building designers to form a legitimate and collective voice on planning issues’.

During the SEPP65 response period many members within BDANSW made personal sacrifices to organise and co-ordinate a cohesive and measured reply to the introduction of the legislation. SEPP 65 was seen as a restraint on the trade of many BDANSW members.

This co-ordinated response included sharing with the state-based building designer associations all the material created during this period; material to promote BDA members and membership; to inform the public about the plight of building designers, and material that was to appear in the final BDANSW submission document.

The state-based associations were asked for contributions to the cause through Barrie Wright, CEO of Building Designers Association of Australia (BDAA). Thanks to the ‘sole’ effort of Barrie Wright, there was a ‘collective’ response from BDAA to SEPP65.

There was little enthusiasm from the states for any action, as it was seen as a NSW problem. I do recall receiving one response, from Ken Bezant, then State President of BDA Western Australia, congratulating NSW on their fine efforts responding to the proposed legislation and the professional attitude in which it had been done, and offering his gratitude for NSW sharing the information with the other states.

So there was a missed opportunity for collective representation, but it was not due to a lone-wolf approach by New South Wales as is intimated in the article.

Building designers and representation

Further, the article states “SEPP 65 is an example where because building designers have had poor representation their voice was not heard or considered, which is not what we want to see”.

Whilst it is true there was little building designer representation at the Premier’s Forum on Residential Flat Design held in March of 2000, once the process of policy formulation and development had commenced with the Urban Design Advisory Committee (UDAC), the informed, persistent and considered response from BDANSW did ensure access to the Minister for Urban Affairs and Planning, Dr Andrew Refshauge, and representation for BDANSW on the SEPP65 Reference Group, firstly by myself as State President, then, later by Dick Clarke, who preceded me as State President.

In many ways our voice was heard, and considered. The Association would have preferred more flexibility and broader scope in the definition of qualified designer within the SEPP, including recognition of the Accreditation Scheme for building design services, developed over a number of years by BDANSW, and refined during the SEPP implementation period by Mike Alexander with the assistance of Development Industry Accreditation Services (DIAS).

Notwithstanding, when SEPP 65 was first introduced into NSW the world did not end for building designers. There were some restrictions for some designers but as a result of all the professionalism shown, and lobbying conducted, by BDANSW, we were able to have introduced into NSW another pathway for building designers to be assessed for registration as an architect.

This is the Built Works Program of Assessment (BWPrA) and many building designers have travelled this path with success. This program is open to any competent building designer across Australia and is not biased towards SEPP 65 type developments.

BDANSW earlier response to SEPP 65 

The final response from BDANSW to the introduction of SEPP 65, handed to Minister Refshauge at the Sydney conference in September 2001, commended the government for their approach to improving the standard of residential flat design in Sydney.

BDANSW has always supported the proposition promulgated by SEPP65, but doesn’t agree with the approach as many fine, non-architect designers are excluded from larger residential projects. It is now part of folklore that the buildings along Anzac Parade that so irked Premier Carr and stirred him into action were, in most part, designed by a registered architect, and one of the examples displayed for all to see as an example of good design, was designed by a BDANSW member.

 In 2000 Premier Bob Carr endorsed the design work of 'The Belmont' development in Sutherland, as an exemplar of desirable SEPP 65 design outcome, despite it having been designed by building designer Cameron Jones. 

Similar programs in store for other states?

Michael O’Sullivan forms a number of conclusions about what is essentially New South Wales history. Perhaps his insight stems from his past membership of BDANSW, but I don’t recall that he held any executive position within the Sydney branch. And perhaps his raising of this issue now has something to do with the possibility that other state authorities are considering the introduction of similar SEPP 65 programs, and the concern is that similar restrictions as to who may design multi-storey residential developments will apply.

Make no mistake, the SEPP 65 provisions have raised the standard of these types of development in NSW and have set a benchmark of design excellence that cannot be underestimated, and the various state legislators always like to back a winning formula.

Alan Smith

Past State President