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    Sky-high slum fears in Melbourne prompt design rule rethink by state government

    Geraldine Chua

    The Victorian government is set to overhaul building controls to boost the design quality of apartments being built in the Melbourne CBD amidst fears that the city skyline will be marred by sub-standard buildings.

    Currently, regulations only impose controls on ventilation, light and key design measures to proposals up to four storeys – measures which have not kept up with a billion-dollar building boom.

    Just last month, Planning Minister Matthew Guy fast-tracked five residential projects for approval on one day.

    Yet, complaints have arisen within the industry about the unimaginative design, small size and lack of amenities (light, ventilation and privacy) in many of these larger inner-city developments.

    A 2013 City of Melbourne report, titled ‘Understanding the Quality of Housing Design’, extends these issues to poor building and apartment layout, poor environmental performance, a lack of communal space and facilities, and flexibility and adaptability limitations.

    Design experts have also cited the use of cheap materials as contributing to the creation of ‘sky-high slums’, which puts the burden of repair and replacement on future generations.

    These concerns have prompted the Office of the Victorian Government Architect to finalise best practice standards based on their NSW equivalent, including regulations for amenities such as access to daylight and ventilation, and building performance.

    However, some architects say that exacting standards have been imposed by major builders, who blame naive entrants for possible sub-standard designs.

    “You cannot legislate for good design,” Roger Poole, chairman of Bates Smart and a board member of think-tank Committee for Melbourne, was recently quoted in the Australian Financial Review

    Design is not the only element impacted by the surge in ‘sky-high slums’, with the Reserve Bank having issued a warning last year about the potential apartment glut in Melbourne’s CBD.

    Current trend vacancy rates for Melbourne’s Docklands and Southbank is about seven per cent, as compared to the average rate of three per cent that landlords and tenants regard as a good balance.

    Robert Mellor, managing director of BIS Shrapnel, has also said there could be 2000 apartments in excess of demand in Melbourne’s inner city, with more to become available this year – signals of an oversupply of new apartments, which could drive down prices and rents, spelling bad news for investors and developers.

    The same story has been told for Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra, with inner-city apartments said to be flooding into capital cities at up to three times the market’s ability to occupy them.

    Oversupply is threatening apartment prices and rents in areas like Docklands in Melbourne. Photo: JESSICA SHAPIRO; Source: Sydney Morning Herald

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