A multi-unit property development must meet the open space standard (B28) which varies from council to council. The amount of open space is specified in the schedule which accompanies the zoning of the land.

In most instances, the requirement is 40 square metres of private open space on the ground with 25 square metres of it being dedicated to a secluded area, where the occupants enjoy greater privacy. This amount of space can generally be achieved by an architect or designer.

The objective of the planning scheme is to offer a reasonable amount of open space for the enjoyment of the occupants. But what is a reasonable amount of space?

When councils demand 75 square metres of open space for a two-bedroom unit, the development becomes unrealistic. The 75 square metres of open space is probably more than the footprint of a two-storey, two-bedroom unit.

While these councils also currently specify that the open space can be 75 square metres on the ground,eight square metres on the balcony, or 10 square metres on a roof terrace - all of which must be accessible from living areas - the upper level open space is not supported unless the site is on a busy street or the design is more for an apartment style living.

A two-bedroom unit is usually occupied by a couple or single person who does not want to spend weekends weeding. And if they like gardening, a three by 8.5 square metre garden is large enough to landscape smartly and grow vegetables or other plants. They could opt for some clever landscape design including growing more vertically.

A three or more bedroom unit would be more appropriate for a young family, and I can understand the need for larger open space - 40 square metres at most. But 75 to 80 square metres seems to make developing in these areas impractical. That amount of space is the footprint of a three-bedroom unit.

So the developer will have to build fewer units, making the end price out of reach for younger families wanting to enter the market in an area well served by infrastructure, schools, and shops and so on.

My feeling is that councils are going for more greening of their suburbs but are they not finding smarter ways to achieve this objective. Roof terraces, “ownership” of nature strips which are mostly neglected, grasscrete driveways, and vertical gardens are simple solutions to green an environment. And surely keeping backyards undeveloped in neighbourhoods at the city “fringe” will not satisfy the demand for housing by a population expected to exceed 8 million.

  • Nice article Swarup – I suspect some local regulators are confused about what Australians expect from apartment style living.

  • You touch on a critical issue here, Swarup. Sadly there is no consistency whatever on the issue of 'how much open space is enough?' across either Local, State or Federal Govt across Australia (well actually, Federal Government is completely silent on the issue of Public Open Space altogether, as best I can establish). Regrettably, it is simply easier (for which read 'lazier') to default to numeric standards when so much really depends on proper contextual analysis. In NSW the Commission for Sydney is asking whether we should have a State Environmental Planning Policy (like SEPP 65) for the public domain in dense residential environments. Not sure I think it is, but if we can use the same style of case study approach to show how it gets realised on the ground – good and bad – we have some chance of getting closer to what's needed.