A working draft of the new Victorian Apartment Design Standards mandating a new minimum size for apartment buildings has been prematurely unveiled by the Australian press.

Tom Alves, senior advisor from the Office of the Victorian Government Architect (OVGA) who is involved in drafting the standards, says the latest reports from the Australian Financial Review, which includes concerns about the standards from building developers and architects, were “misrepresented and premature”.

“The documents that were unfortunately leaked were nowhere near finalised and the report misrepresented the purpose of the OVGA development,” Alves said in an interview with Architecture & Design.

“I will say that there has been concern in Melbourne for some time, from local governments and a variety of stakeholders, that there is an issue with the standard of amenity within apartment buildings in the city.”

“The standards, unlike what has been reported in the press, aren’t just about apartment sizes, they also respond to a worrying precedent that is being set in Melbourne in which buildings are being designed and built with a severe lack of amenity.”

Alves said that this should not come as a surprise to developers and architects as the idea of a state-wide standard for high-density residential building design have been on the cards for a long time.

He referred to Initiative 2.1.4 ‘Improve the quality and amenity of residential apartments’ from the 2013 Plan Melbourne planning strategy which stipulates the updating of design guidelines and the introduction of measurable standards for high-density residential and mixed-use buildings.

He also said that local governments such as the City of Morlen already have design standards for multi-residential buildings, and that a statewide code would only make it easier for construction companies.

Alves admits that the new standards will incorporate the lessons from the NSW State Environment Planning Policy (SEPP65) standards which became law in 2002 and hopes that a “national best practice standard” will eventually amount.

“We have the benefit of looking back at the SEPP65 model and what it has achieved over the past 12 years,” he said.

“It is widely recognised as a good model among local governments and key industry bodies.”

SEPP65 provisions minimum amenity and space requirements for all new residential flats in NSW.

Steven Kennedy, President of the Association Consulting Architects Australia (ACA) shares Alves affirmation with the NSW 65SEPP standards and says they were a positive result for the NSW government.

“Let me just say that, in my opinion SEPP65 and the Residential Flat Design Code were two of the most significant achievements of the NSW government in recent times and have had a profound and positive effect on the quality of the NSW built environment,” he said.

“SEPP65 established the principles by which everyone involved in the delivery of multi-unit residential development is expected to operate and the RFDC provides a series of clear and well considered rules of thumb which both guide the design of residential flat buildings and enable a level playing field in their assessment.”

Like Kennedy, President of the Australian Institute of Architects Victorian Chapter Peter Malatt welcomes the draft standard and sees SEPP65 as a suitable yardstick. However he is a little unpleased that the AIA was not included in the consultation and that the OVGA did not include any industry bodies in the process at all; only individuals.

“We’re writing a letter saying we welcome the draft standard and we’d welcome the opportunity to be involved in the consultation process,” he said.

“We’ve never been consulted. The OVGA has done its own internal consultation which has included individuals but peak bodies have not been invited to comment on the document.”

“We actually took them to task on this, they consulted with people in the industry but they do not represent anyone in the industry, only their own commercial entities. We don’t classify that as consultation.”

In response to concerns that standards like SEPP65 will negatively affect the Victorian construction sector, Malatt said this:

“The industry position is that SEPP65 is an excellent document that has made a real positive difference to apartment standards in Sydney,” he said.

“It has not crashed their property market and not created doom and gloom in their property sector, it’s just as good as Melbourne’s”

“We don’t subscribe to any of the scaremongering that it’s going to negatively impact on the property market, that’s completely without basis.”

Malatt was also willing to comment on what he regarded as a key problem with Melbourne apartment construction, believing that the problem lies in who is in control of the market.

“Development of apartments in Melbourne have been left in the hands of developers, and in some cases overseas developers, for far too long,” he said.

“The government to a large extent has abdicated its responsibility to the public.”

“Standards are extremely low and they’re dropping.”

Tom Alves says the draft standards will be released when the Planning Minister sees fit.