Call for comment on proposed new standards for apartment exteriors

12 August 2019
Meg Lee, Partner, Melbourne

The Victorian government is proposing further changes to the requirements for apartment developments, with the release of the Better Apartments in Neighbourhoods – Discussion Paper 2019 (the BANs Discussion Paper) which proposes changes to the planning controls that regulate apartment developments in Victoria. Following on from the Better Apartment Design Standards (BADS) which were introduced in 2017, the BANs Discussion Paper includes standards relating to apartment exteriors and the impact of apartments on surrounding areas.

With apartment living becoming an increasingly popular housing choice across Victoria, particularly as the population grows at a rate predicted to result in an additional 4 million people living in Victoria by 2051, it is important that planning controls provide for the consideration of the impact of the exterior design of apartment buildings on surrounding areas. The government is currently seeking submissions on the proposed changes set out in the BANs Discussion Paper through Engage Victoria (website available here) until 5pm on Friday 27 September 2019.

Partner Meg Lee and Associate Zina Teoh summarise the proposed standards.

 

Background

Currently, the specific requirements for apartment developments are implemented into the planning scheme at clause 58 through the BADS. The BADS were brought in 2017 via amendment VC136 and were designed address the internal amenity of apartment developments following concerns that a growing number of apartments were being built which did not provide adequate or appropriate internal space for occupants.

The BANs Discussion Paper now proposes additional standards to address the design of the exterior of apartments following from consultation with industries bodies and local government. These changes are to be implemented through a further planning scheme amendment to clause 58 which is expected to occur in late 2019.

 

Proposed Changes

Green Space

While the BADS introduced landscaping objectives for apartment developments, the BANs Discussion Paper notes that landscaping is often considered late in the design of an apartment development, resulting in issues such as poor solar access for landscaping and inadequate soil depth or space for canopy trees to become established to a mature height. Additionally the BADS only impose a communal open space requirement on apartment developments of 40 dwellings and above, so smaller apartment developments often do not have any communal open space leaving some residents without access to a garden. The proposed new standards seek to improve landscaping for apartments by ensuring consistent requirements across developments.

Proposed changes include:

  • Minimum requirements for canopy tree provision, deep soil areas and planter soil volume.
  • All apartments to provide landscaped communal open space (the current 40 dwelling threshold under the BADS is proposed to be removed).
  • Encourage landscaping in street frontages and sun exposed trafficable areas.
  • Model permit conditions about how landscaping will be maintained
External appearance of apartment buildings

Currently design and development overlays are the main controls which address façade design of apartment buildings. Design and development overlays already exist in a number of inner Melbourne planning schemes where apartment developments have been focused to date, including central Melbourne. However, as apartment developments become more common in outer suburbs and regional cities where design and development overlays are not in place, there is a lack of guidance in the VPPs on assessing the impact and quality of façade design. The proposed standards are designed to set benchmark façade requirements for all apartments to improve their overall appearance and durability.

Proposed changes include:

  • Requirements for all apartment developments to have visually interesting and high-quality external design and durable and interesting external materials.
  • Requirements for all apartments to have safe and convenient access to external walls to allow for maintenance.
Wind Impacts

The BANs Discussion Paper notes that tall developments can increase wind conditions in public spaces and that there are no consistent planning requirements relating to wind across Victoria. The current BADS do not contain specific requirements for responsible authorities to consider the impact an apartment development will have on wind conditions in surrounding places. To ensure that apartment developments do not create negative conditions for pedestrians, changes are proposed to require wind conditions to be assessed in permit applications.

Proposed changes include:

  • Standards set for what constitutes “unsafe” and “comfortable” wind conditions.
  • Requirements for developments to minimise adverse wind impacts on and offsite and achieve comfortable wind conditions.
Street interface

Apartment developments often require building services to be located at ground level and on the street frontage (often as a result of utility service provider requirements), which can sometimes result in poor street interfaces and non-activated street frontages. The BANs Discussion Paper states that the current BADS do not do enough to emphasise the importance of street interface design so the proposed changes are designed to ensure that apartment developments positively contribute to the neighbourhood at street level.

Proposed changes include:
  • Requirements for developments to integrate with the street and encourage active street frontages.
  • Requirements to minimise the impact of vehicle crossovers and access points on the streetscape.
  • Requirements for site services to be accessible, adequate and attractive.
Construction impacts

The BANs Discussion Paper notes that apartment developments often take a long time to be constructed so it is important to manage the impact of construction on the surrounding area. Currently this is not specifically governed by the Victoria Planning Provisions (VPPs) , with Councils managing construction impacts through construction management plans and through local by-laws on matters such as noise emissions. The proposed changes are designed to ensure consistency in the management of construction of apartment developments.

Proposed changes include:

  • Requirements for developers to identify how they will protect the site and surrounds from impacts from the construction.
  • Model permit conditions requiring preparation of a Construction Management Plan to be approved by Council.

 

Next steps

Given both the popularity and necessity of apartment developments to alleviate population growth pressures and housing affordability, not just in inner Melbourne but now throughout suburban and regional Victoria, the proposed BANs are important to ensure that apartment developments make a positive contribution to our neighbourhoods. The BANs Discussion Paper proposes a set of new standards designed to improve consistency in the way that the impacts of apartment buildings are managed throughout Victoria.

Developers are encouraged to review and consider the impact of the standards on their developments, and make submissions to Engage Victoria. Importantly, some of the changes will inevitably increase the costs of development, which will have a flow on impact to housing affordability so it is important to get the balance right.

 


Authored by:

Meg Lee, Partner

Zina Teoh, Associate

This update does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. It is intended only to provide a summary and general overview on matters of interest and it is not intended to be comprehensive. You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the content.

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