The NSW state government’s new draft design policy for medium density housing has been welcomed by the Australian Institute of Architects.

The draft proposes to inject a new ‘Medium Density Housing Code’ into the Code’s State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) to fast track the delivery of high-quality low-rise medium density housing for the state.

Much like SEPP65 for residential apartments, the new SEPP for medium density would be accompanied by a design guide, the ‘Medium Density Design Guide’ (MMDG), and would provide clear benchmarks for designing and assessing the range of medium density developments.

AIA NSW Chapter President Shaun Carter welcomed the draft guide and believes it will provide similar benefits to NSW’s housing stock as SEPP 65 is perceived to have had.  

“SEPP 65 and its accompanying Apartment Design Guide provide a base level of design excellence that has delivered a major improvement in apartment design quality for the last 14 years”, says Carter.

“The new policy aims to deliver a similar improvement in the quality of all new development as New South Wales meets the challenges of an increasing population.”

The MMDG will supplement the complying development standards and has been prepared to be used as a guide for assessment by councils and planning, as well as a tool for designers preparing for medium density housing development as complying development.

It includes standards for gross floor area, landscaped area, building height and setbacks for all types of multi-dwelling buildings (except residential flat buildings) in both strata and torrens titled instances. It will also include two new building types currently undefined in the Code including the manor house (a two-storey building containing 3 or 4 dwellings with common wall and/or floor) and terraces (3 or more dwellings with frontage to a public road).

A Design Verification Statement prepared by the designer will need to accompany DA’s for complying development to confirm and provide evidence of compliance and consistency with the design principles in the new MDDG.


The draft policy has been driven by recommendations in discussion paper released by the NSW government in November 2015. Options for low rise medium density housing as complying development recommended that dual occupancies, manor homes, townhouses and terraces be permitted under complying development to fast track their development and thus put downwards pressure on housing costs and increase housing supply.

It is believed that the increase in this type of development will fill the perceived gap in the NSW housing market now dubbed ‘Missing Middle’.

“We need affordable housing solutions for families. We also need to increase the variety in the types of housing available to give people more choice, provide an interesting and vibrant built environment and ensure housing supply caters for the needs of changing demographics into the future,” says NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes.

“We need to act strategically and put the policies in place today which encourage the creation of a diverse mix of housing types tomorrow. Older people, families with children, singles and couples all need and deserve greater choice when it comes to housing. They should be serviced by a market which provides the right homes for their needs, preferences and budgets.”

The draft Medium Density Design Guide and draft Medium Density Housing Code will be available for viewing and public feedback until 12 December 2016.