• VCAT
Government seeking feedback on changes to the apartment development guidelines

September 1, 2019

Government seeking feedback on changes to the apartment development guidelines

The Better Apartments in Neighbourhoods Discussion Paper 2019 has been released by the Victoria State Government DELWP. It is proposing several recommendations for apartment developments which will improve their design and liveability for residents and the neighbourhood in which they are built.

Apartments are an essential part of residential development in Victoria helping with the pressures from an ever increasing population and creating affordable housing. It is forecast that by 2051, Victoria’s population will increase by over four million people with an estimated 1.9 million additional households.

The DELWP is asking for feedback on the changes from the Victorian public who can make a submission to them online. The proposed changes outlined in the paper will only affect apartment buildings which are identified as residential developments five or more stories high.

In 2017 the Victoria Government introduced the Better Apartments Design Standards which was a response to concerns that apartments were ‘not providing safe and healthy environments.’

Victoria’s Better Apartments Design Standards are implemented in all planning schemes across the state through the Victoria Planning Provisions (VPP).

This Discussion Paper is a continuation of this to further improve apartment design and development.

What are the new changes to apartments? 

There are five new measures that are proposed to improve apartment developments in Victoria which include: green space, wind effects, appearance of apartment buildings, street interface and constructions impacts.

Below is a summary of the proposed new standards:

Green Space

The discussion paper outlines the need for improved landscaping and more communal green space in apartment buildings. The paper acknowledges that landscaping is often an afterthought and is not being utilized effectively. It also notes that landscaping is often limited along the front of apartment buildings which causes a less attractive streetscape. Currently, smaller apartment do not have a communal green space requirement, leaving a lot of residents without gardens. Only apartments with 40 dwellings or more need to provide open communal space of 25m2 as a minimum, smaller apartment developments have no obligation to do so. 

Recommended changes:

  • Encourage landscaping in street frontages
  • Clarify current landscaping objectives and encourage more canopy tress as part of the landscaping
  • Remove the threshold so all apartments will have a mandatory communal open space for residents of at least 25m2.
  • A planning permit condition about how the landscaping will be maintained.

Wind effects

Presently there are no specific planning requirements to manage wind effects caused by a development. It is noted that tall buildings can increase wind which in turn can cause safety and amenity hazards for the public.  

Recommended changes:

  • Ensure wind effects are considered when developing a site
  • Define comfortable and unsafe wind conditions to assess wind affects
  • Clarify when a desktop wind study or wind tunnel analysis may be required

Appearance of apartment buildings

In inner cities areas such as central Melbourne apartments are very common and therefore design and development controls apply helps control the external look of buildings.  However these controls are not applied in more suburban areas where apartments are now becoming increasingly popular. The changes will address the lack of external building controls in these less central areas of Victoria and make sure apartments are built with durability, attractiveness and easy maintenance in mind.  

Recommended changes:

  • New standard to require apartments to have a visually interesting, high-quality external design with external materials that are durable.
  • New standard for apartments to have external walls that are accessible for maintenance.

Street Interface 

Apartment buildings can often create poor street interfaces, which undermine safety and detract from the look and feel of a street. The current Better Apartments Design Standards do not sufficiently emphasise the need for street interface design to integrate building services and the other functional requirements of an apartment building. The proposed changes will help apartments better integrate with the surrounding streetscape and be more attractive to the public.

Recommended changes:

• Integrate the layout of developments with the street and encourage active street-level frontages

• Minimise the impact of vehicle crossovers and access points on the streetscape

• Ensure site services are accessible, adequate and attractive.

Construction Impacts

It is noted in the discussion paper that apartments often take a long time to build which causes several issues in the surrounding neighbourhood which need to be managed correctly. These include traffic, road and footpath closures, dust, odour and noise emissions. Currently construction issues are managed by individual councils and there is no clear consistency in the best practices.

Recommended changes:

•Developers will have to identify how they will manage and mitigate issues for the surrounding area caused by the construction.

•Suggested condition of a planning permit for developers to submit a construction management plan to be approved by council.

What affect will these changes have?

The proposed changes will have an effect on development costs of new apartment buildings particularly the green space requirement as all developers will be required to incorporate communal green space into their design. This means more expense when developing new apartment buildings which in turn will affect the affordability of apartments. However to what extent these changes will have an effect remains to be seen. Overall it will improve the amenity of apartment buildings for residents with more communal spaces, make apartments less of an eyesore in neighbourhoods and will alleviate tensions between developers and local residents during the construction stage.

What happens now? 

All Victorians are invited to make a submission to the DELWP regarding the proposed new measures which can be made online via an online submission form.  Submissions close on Friday 27 September 2019 at 5 pm. DELWP will consider the submissions when making recommendations to the Planning Minister.