The New South Wales Government is proposing to extend its complying development Housing Code from two-storey detached houses into terrace houses, duplexes and town houses.

While this is a good move, far more is needed to help housing supply, particularly in Sydney.

The idea behind “complying development” is that tried and tested building types that fit clear rules can get quick approvals. Proposals for more complex buildings that are one-off solutions should go down the path of merit-based assessment, which takes a lot more time. Merit assessment means the project goes on public exhibition for a month or so and everyone has a go at redesigning the building.

Clearly complying development can be a more attractive pathway for approval if the building envelopes and planning rules can still make developments economically feasible. This is a concern regarding the current push for terrace houses and town houses. If the idea is that a single house is replaced by two terrace houses, it is unlikely that the numbers will stack up, as the cost of acquiring that single house or site will be very expensive in this current property market. In new areas, provided land values are low enough, the low-rise medium density approach could work well. This is what the Department of Planning is hoping as a result of its new proposal for complying development.

Under the heading Missing Middle the NSW Department of Planning and Environment has produced a 50-page discussion paper that outlines a complying development approach to these medium density but low rise forms of housing. The term “Missing Middle” has evolved from the New Urbanism movements focus on the “Transect” as a build-up of built form from very low density rural housing (T1) to urban core housing in high rise apartments (T6). See for a greater understanding.

In 2010, Daniel Parolek of Opticos Design in Berkeley California coined the term “Missing Middle” to define a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types compatible in scale with single homes. Parolek has championed this form of housing through his website ( and his simple diagrams.

Back in New South Wales, the Department of Planning and Environment has commissioned SJB Planning to develop a local version of the missing middle and to use complying development codes to drive quality outcomes. SJB undertook a detailed study of 12 Local Government Areas to review the results of approvals through the merit-based Development Assessment (DA) system. The study indicated that many good results were achieved but some less desirable solutions had also been approved. They set out to define a code that would not allow the poor results but supported the quality results.

The complying development proposals by SJB Planning propose the following:

  • Development resulting in two dwellings (dual occupancies) on a single lot with a minimum lot size of 400 square metres
  • Development resulting in three or four dwellings (manor homes) on a single lot with a minimum lot size of 500 square metres
  • Development resulting in three to 10 dwellings (townhouses/ terrace houses and similar) on a single lot with a minimum lot size of 600 square metres

A maximum of 10 dwellings and a height limit of 8.5 metres (two storeys) is recommended to ensure a manageable scale and built form.

The move toward quicker approvals through complying development for a range of medium density and low-rise buildings is very welcome. Governments must use the planning system to encourage preferred forms of development through easier approval paths. Communities can also have greater confidence on the end result as they must conform to a code.

The excellent discussion paper on the “Missing Middle” has good graphics and asks many questions. The next step will be to add the new building types to the Electronic Housing Code so that consumers can quickly test development options on individual sites.

Hopefully, the government will move even further to extend the complying code to medium density mid-rise built form. This could give support for six and eight-storey housing in the form used in Barcelona and Paris, which most people would support. The latest proposals from the NSW government are a move in the right direction and set the agenda for the mid-rise option.

Recent changes by the state government to strata laws will make it easier for developers and owners to redevelop existing run-down apartment buildings for new development. These changes could turbo charge housing supply if the complying development code was extended to medium density mid-rise buildings. This will allow certain sites to be redeveloped in an efficient and cost-effective manner. These two government policies could help drive new housing supply in areas which were previously not available for redevelopment due to strata ownership or feasibility concerns.