• VCAT
Why the correct minimum garden area is essential for permit approval

March 3, 2019

What can be included in the minimum garden area calculation in Victoria

The minimum garden area requirement is a mandatory planning percentage in Victoria that applies to the construction or extension of residential building in the Neighbourhood Residential Zone and the General Residential Zone.

It ensures that a specific amount of a lot’s area is preserved as ‘garden’ and not built upon. This protects the greenspaces and neighbour character of a suburb and stops overdevelopment throughout Melbourne. The requirement has been in effect in Victorian Council Planning Schemes since March 2017 and a planning permit cannot be issued for a subdivision or development application by the local council if the garden area is not met. The mandatory requirement was introduced following the Department of Planning’s decision to abolish the ‘two dwelling maximum’ rule that existed in the former Neighbourhood Residential Zone. The measure was introduced to allow larger sites within the Neighbourhood Residential Zone of suburban Melbourne such as BanyuleManningham and Glen Eira to be developed for more than two houses where lot sizes where excessively large. In the more metropolitan areas of Melbourne such as Stonnington and Yarra the measure was introduced to prevent buildings occupying entire sites and to ensure effective separation between buildings on adjoining lots was achieved by ensuring a landscape buffer was created around buildings.   

However what is classed as ‘garden area’ and what is exempt from being included can be difficult to understand. It is important to be clear on what is permitted to ensure that your development is compliant with the Victoria State Planning Provisions along with your local planning scheme. If not you could be left with a development design that does not meet the minimum requirement and therefore will not be approved by your local council. 

The required percentage is based on the size of the lot.

Lot size – Minimum percentage of a lot set aside as garden area

400 – 500 sqm – 25%

Above 500 – 650sqm – 30%

Above 650 sqm – 35%

The following are examples of what can be included to form part of the minimum garden area requirement.

What can be included under the Building Regulations

The width of any eave, fascia or gutter of a dwelling that does not exceed a total width of 600mm. This is not to be confused with a building overhang as shown in the diagrams below.

  1. A pergola
  2. Unroofed terraces, patios, decks, steps or landings less than 800mm in height
  3. A basement that does not project above ground level
  4. Any outbuilding that does not exceed a gross floor area of 10 square metres

such as:

  • A garden shed
  • A gazebo
  • An arbor
  • A pool house
  • A green house
  • A covered barbeque area

 Domestic services normal to a dwelling or residential building including:

  • Sunblinds and shade sails
  • Flues and pipes
  • Domestic fuel tanks and water tanks, heating and cooling equipment and other services
  • Waste receptacle enclosures
  • Letterboxes

 Other structures:

  • A swimming pool or spa
  • A tennis court
  • A retaining wall
  • A fence
  • A paved area
  • A private bushfire shelter

Diagrams of the five most typical structures that emerge in the design of multi units and subdivision that can be included in the garden area calculation are shown below.  

The following are the most common examples of exclusions and cannot be used to form part of the minimum requirement percentage:

Any area that has an upper storey building projecting over it is not classed as garden. Similarly an area under a balcony cannot be classed as garden. Driveways and areas used for car parking are all excluded along with basement carparks that project above the ground.  A veranda, porch or alfresco that is roofed also cannot be included to make up the minimum requirement. If an eave, fascia or gutter of a dwelling has a width of over 600m then the area underneath is excluded as well.

The most common oversights of structures that are omitted from the garden area calculation and can be included are garden sheds or outdoor sheds less than 10 square metres in area and open roofed pergolas.

The most common oversights of structures that are incorrectly included in the calculation are front porches or areas under a first floor balcony. 

These are the minimum garden area requirement rules throughout Victoria and is applied by the Victoria State Planning Scheme.  There was much confusion in the calculation of the garden area when it was first introduced, particularly when calculating multi unit and subdivision development applications. To curb this confusion the Department of planning introduced a ‘Practice Note’ to assist designers of multi unit development and subdivisions understand what could and could not be included in the calculation. You can read the practice note here and it is critical to for designers and architects to understand what can and cannot be used in the calculation. 

It is important for designers and architects to also know that there are a number of exemptions to the garden area requirement that exist. These exemptions are largely unknown and the most notable of which is:

  • If the site is less than 400 square metres in area. This is a common occurrence in the inner suburbs and sections of Melbourne. 
  • If there is an existing building and it did not comply with the minimum garden area requirement before the 27th March 2017.
  • If the lot is 400 square metres or greater and is designated as a medium density housing site in a precinct structure plan, an equivalent strategic plan or an approved development plan.

The reason these exemptions exist is because the lots less than 400 square metres in area that existed before the introduction of the minimum garden area requirement are typically found in older inner city areas of Melbourne where housing tends to be more urban in style with small front setbacks and compact rear yards or courtyards and in existing suburbs where land has been developed for villa units and town houses. Applying the minimum garden area requirement to these lots would unfairly limit the capacity to redevelop or renew existing dwellings.

The final diagram below from the practice note demonstrates the difference between what makes up ‘site coverage’ , ‘site permeability’ and ‘garden area’ as defined under the practice note. You will note there are distinct differences between the three and therefore there should be different calculations for each. At CS we include a separate drawing for each of these areas in our standard drawing sets to demonstrate what areas make up the site coverage, permeability and garden area.