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    Industry divided over new Victorian Apartment Design Standards

    Nathan Johnson

    A final draft of Victorian apartment design standards (VADS) has been released by the state government for final consultation but it does not include a provision for minimum apartment sizes.

    The Better Apartments Draft Design Standards address building setbacks, room depth, accessibility, waste and water, energy efficiency, storage, open space and noise minimisation. But there are a few notable exclusions that have the design profession disappointed and the property industry pleased.

    The first is that no guidelines or recommendations have been included in relation to apartment sizes, which were predicted by some to be similar to NSW‘s State Environment Planning Policy 65 (SEPP65) and accompanying Apartment Design Guide, which set out minimum sizes for studios and one, two and three bedroom apartments.

    The second is that mechanisms for ensuring design excellence, like a review process involving design experts, which was suggested by the Australian Institute of Architects has not been included.

    “We are disappointed that no guidelines or recommendations have been included in relation to apartment sizes and that the Institute’s focus on mechanisms for ensuring design excellence, such as a parallel Design Review Panel process, has not been included,” says Vanessa Bird, Victorian Chapter President of the AIA.

    “While we agree with Minister Wynne that size is not the only determiner of good design, design excellence and innovation must be demonstrated before deviating from minimum metric standards.”

    The government says that minimum apartment sizes were not included because the standards will do enough to promote design innovation and encourage developers to provide a mix of apartment styles in developments.

    GOOD FOR AFFORDABILITY?

    This exclusion of minimum sizes has pleased the Property Council of Australia who says it has been working hard over the last 18 months to help the government strike a fair balance between affordability, amenity and market demand with the standards.

    Like some architects, the Property Council is a firm believer in finding alternative ways to addressing community concerns for poor housing quality than imposing “costly regulations on the market”.

    One of those is Craig Yelland of Plus Architecture, one of Melbourne’s most prolific high-density architecture firms, who reiterates that you can’t bring in standards without affecting the price of apartments.

    “The main message is that you can bring in design standards, which make for more fabulous apartments, everybody wants a bigger living room and north facing orientation after all, but it all comes at a cost,” he says.

    “And the cost is real and it comes in additional size and land components.”

    He also rejects calls for developers to simply cut their financial return in order to keep these new “better” apartments affordable.

    “So some people say ‘oh the developer can just make less money’, which is just na├»ve, because they can’t,” he says.

    “They could make less money but they can’t get funding, then the job won’t happen.”

    While Yelland says he can’t quantify the actual effect regulations will have on housing affordability and development, there is some recent research which claims that it can.

    Impacts of Planning Rules, Regulations, Uncertainty and Delay on Residential Property Development was published by Arthur Gimres of the University of Auckland and Ian Mitchell of Livington Associates in January 2015, and as the name suggests, attempts to show  how regulatory policies and regulatory practices affect development decisions and housing affordability.

    The duo surveyed 16 developers with the objectives of; understanding the reasons behind the design of individual developments, including the impacts of council planning rules, regulations and actions; estimating the reported per unit cost impact of council rules, regulations and actions; and  understanding how delay and uncertainty affect developers’ decisions to develop or not to develop a project.

    Two major points came out of the study.

    1. Costs imposed by Council regulation and/or by delays and uncertainties in the development process, have the effect of raising long run costs
    2. Council imposed rules and regulations result in a significant loss in potential development capacity

    IF CERTAINTY AIDS AFFORDABILITY THEN LETS MAKE SIZES CERTAIN

    The Institute would agree with the research that delays and uncertainties in the development process do have an effect on housing affordability, and would therefore like to see certainty applied with minimum apartment sizes.

    “Certainty is a key component of good legislation and decision making,” says Vanessa Bird.

    “Certainty in the planning process, that makes referral to VCAT the exception rather than the rule, reduces the cost of housing.”


    Consultation on the draft apartment design standards is open for community and stakeholder feedback for five weeks, closing 16 September 2016.

    More information on the draft standards is available http://haveyoursay.delwp.vic.gov.au/better-apartments

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