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Better Apartment Design Standards released

The State Government released the final version of its Better Apartment Design Standards (BADS) on Saturday, providing the industry with the much-awaited policy guidelines that will influence the design of apartment development throughout Melbourne for years to come.

The final document is noticeably different to the draft Guidelines exhibited earlier this year. Many of the prescriptive requirements are gone, which will be a relief to some sectors of the market. There is a strong emphasis on performance-based outcomes consistent with the traditional approach to contemporary planning in Victoria.

Given the significant response by industry to the Guidelines, with over 250 detailed submissions, the final document reflects an understanding of the issues facing the development of land for taller residential buildings and the importance of performance based controls in achieving the best planning outcomes.

To read the full version of BADS please click here.

When will it take effect?

The Victorian Planning Provisions (VPPs) will be amended in March 2017 to introduce BADS into every planning scheme across Victoria, applying to all apartment developments.

Transitional arrangements will be included in the new provisions to ensure that applications lodged prior to BADS being approved will be assessed based on the planning controls at the time of lodgement.

How will it work?

Unsurprisingly, BADS adopts the same performance-based approach used in ResCode with Objectives, Standards and Design Guidelines and we would expect it will be used and assessed in a similar manner. Meeting the Objective will be mandatory with the Decision Guidelines setting out matters to be considered before deciding if an application meets the Objectives. The Standards set out one way to meet the objective and often are prescriptive in nature, similar to ResCode.

All apartment proposals in Victoria will be assessed against BADS with those developments 4 storeys and lower also assessed against ResCode.

Overlays will continue to be relevant considerations specific to the issue to which they pertain, such as heritage, height and neighbourhood character.

What does BADS actually say?

BADS contains 16 objectives, including Building Setbacks, Room Depth to Waste and Recycling. The objective pertaining to light wells as proposed in the draft Guidelines has been removed and Functional Layout has been included. All other Objective topics remain the same although in some areas there has been considerable movement in the context.

A synopsis of issues of prime interest to readers and clients is as follows:

Building Setback – the prescriptive building separation distances proposed with the draft Guidelines have been completely removed. Instead the Objective focuses on a performance based approach that centres on setbacks responding to urban context, daylight to new dwellings and private open space, limiting overlooking, and providing reasonable outlook. The language uses phrases such as reasonable distance to side and rear boundaries, adequate daylight, avoiding directions views and avoiding a reliance on screening.

Functional Layout – Whilst no minimum apartment sizes are proposed, the Standard provides minimum dimensions for bedrooms and living areas. A main bedroom should be a minimum of 3 x 3.4m and other bedrooms 3 x 3m. For studio and 1 bedroom apartments, living areas should be a minimum of 3.3 metres in width and have a minimum area of 10sqm. In larger apartments living areas should be a minimum of 3.6 metres in width and be a minimum of 12sqm in size.

Accessibility – There is greater emphasis on apartments meeting the needs of people with limited mobility. 50% of apartments should meet a range of requirements, such as a clear opening width of 850mm at the entrance of the dwelling and the main bedroom, adaptable bathrooms and a clear path of 1.2 metres that connects the dwelling entrance to the main bedroom, adaptable bathroom and living area.

Storage – BADS focuses on total storage for apartments, including kitchen, bathroom and bedroom storage with a sliding scale of minimum internal and total storage space depending on the size of the dwelling. The difference between the two should be provided as external storage. For example, a one bedroom dwelling should have a total of 10 cubic metres of storage, of which 6 cubic metres should be located internally, meaning 4 cubic metres should be provided externally.

Windows – The previously proposed prohibition on saddleback bedrooms has been relaxed, presumably in response to submissions from architects and others within the Industry. Saddlebacks will be permitted providing the window is clear to the sky, a minimum of 1.2 metres wide with the ‘snorkel’ having a maximum depth of 1.5 times the width. As an example, a saddleback bedroom can have a 1.2 metre wide window with a maximum ‘snorkel’ depth of 1.8 metres with no balcony overhanging the window.

Room Depth – a single aspect habitable room should not exceed a room depth of 2.5 times the ceiling height with ceiling heights not being prescribed as previously proposed. A living/dining kitchen area can be increased to 9 metres providing the kitchen is located furthest away from the window and the ceiling height is at least 2.7 metres in height.

Natural Ventilation – A minimum of 40% of dwellings should achieve effective cross ventilation which includes minimum breeze paths of 5 metres and maximum breeze paths of 18 metres.

Communal Open Space – Communal open space should be provided for larger apartment developments (more than 40 dwellings) with a minimum area of 2.5sqm per dwelling or 250 sqm, whichever is the lesser. The space should be located on the northern side of a building if appropriate, promote passive surveillance, and at least 50% or 125 sqm, whichever is the lesser, should receive a minimum of 2 hours of sunlight between 9am and 3pm on 21 June.

Private Open Space – As expected, the size requirements for balconies and courtyards have increased and are related to dwelling size. Ground level courtyards should be a minimum of 25sqm with a minimum depth of 3m, podium courtyards should be a minimum of 15sqm with a minimum depth of 3m. Balconies should range in size from 8sqm for studios and single bedrooms to 12sqm and a minimum depth of 2.4 metres for 3 bedroom dwellings and larger.

Other matters – Other details of interest include:

  • The provision of once source of natural light and natural ventilation to common areas and corridors
  • Provide for the retention of planting of trees where these are part of the character of the neighbourhood and the local context
  • Living areas and private open space should be located on the north size of the building where practicable
  • Dwellings should not exceed the maximum NatHERS annual cooling load which varies depending on location
  • Buildings should be designed to collect rainwater for non-drinking purposes, such as flushing toilets and garden use
  • Specific aspects of ResCode will be integrated into the assessment of apartment buildings, such as dwelling diversity, parking location, walls on boundaries, internal views and common property.

What does it mean?

Our review of BADS reveals a document that, overall, has got the balance about right. Ratio strongly advocated in its submission and presentations to the Minister and his Senior Staff the importance of maintaining a performance-based approach and it is pleasing to see this remain the underlying philosophy of the Guidelines.

The absence of clarification around daylight is likely to be an ongoing source of tension moving forward. For example, whilst building separation is in part determined by the provision of adequate daylight for occupiers, there is no guidance at to what adequate daylight is and how it should be measured.

Given the wording of the Building Setback Objectives, Standard and Decision Guidelines, it is reasonable that a 9-metre separation between balconies/habitable room windows would be a default minimum, remembering that in the central city, recent controls under Amendment C270 to the Melbourne Planning Scheme will also provide direction on building separation. How all this relates to daylighting and outlook remains to be seen.

We would also reasonably expect apartment sizes to increase, particularly at the smaller end of the market. Consistent with previous feedback from the Minister there is no prescriptive minimum sizes for apartments. However, the requirements of Functional Layout, Storage and Accessibility will result in more space to improve the storage, accessibility and liveability requirements for occupiers. Modelling from architects will no doubt reveal in the coming months the implications of these requirements together with ESD needs.

Whether BADS provides the certainty some sectors of the development industry were after remains to be seen. Will there be an increase in the cost of housing as a consequence? Probably, but the extent of this increase will be influenced by the development industry’s response, innovation in design and technology.

Will the amenity, liveability and suitability of high rise dwellings increase? Most certainly, and that has to be a better outcome!

This article originally appeared on Ratio's website and has been republished with permission.

1 comment

Craig Yelland's picture

Great piece Colleen.

Director of Plus Architecture
www.plusarchitecture.com.au

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