Draft apartment design standards leaked last month offer clues to substantial changes ahead for new Victorian apartment buildings.

The new Victorian Apartment Design Standards are based on existing New South Wales standards, State Environmental Planning Policy 65, but are not yet complete. Planning Minister Matthew Guy said the completed standards will not be released before the state election in November.

The Office of the Victorian Government Architect, which is drafting the standards, addressed the leaked draft, stating, “Next steps will include formally consulting with the peak bodies of stakeholder groups.”

Many of those stakeholder groups have commented publicly on the draft standards.

The Australian Institute of Architects’ national president David Karotkin said his organisation has not seen the OVGA draft standards, but supports the framework.

“We are aware that the proposed standards are based on NSW Residential Flat Code which form part of their SEPP65 framework. The Institute supports the SEPP65 model and calls for similar planning legislation to be implemented in all jurisdictions,” he said.

Addressing the criticisms of some developers, who have stated that the new standards will decrease affordability, Karotkin noted that, “developers are motivated by profit not affordability. They seek to build as cheaply as possible and to sell for as much as possible. Fair enough. That is why regulation of minimum standards is essential to protect the interests of occupants now and into the future, long after the developers have taken their profits and moved on.”

While some developers predict decreasing affordability from the new standards, Karotkin and the AIA suggest the opposite, stating that “Housing affordability can be achieved through innovative design by skilled architects.”

One component of the SEPP65 model, according to Karotkin, is the requirement that registered architects be used to design multi-storey buildings.

“By adopting SEPP65 style framework, performance based design quality guidelines can be applied in a flexible way to allow innovative design solutions which lead to improved affordability, housing diversity, and improved living standards – now and into the future,” he said.

The standards under consideration include a minimum size of 37 square metres for studio apartments and 50 square metres for one-bedroom apartments. Current guidelines do not include minimum floor area. Other requirements state that:

  • Buildings should face north, and 90 per cent of apartments must receive direct sunlight
  • Buildings can be a maximum of 18 metres deep, and each apartment above ground level must have a two-metre deep balcony
  • The site should include 20 per cent shared space for residents
  • Each floor can have no more than eight apartments per lift
  • Nearly a third of building materials should be recycled or locally sourced
  • Large-canopy trees should be accommodated on up to 15 per cent of the site
  • Apartments ceilings must be 2.7 metres

The Residential Development Council has weighed in against the draft standards, and against SEPP65. According to the Council, SEPP65 originally aimed to improve apartment design and amenities. It has, however, “become an onerous policy that reduces housing affordability because time delays and red tape have pushed up house prices for consumers” according to the Council.

“The rules have not kept up to date with emerging and innovative building practices and local governments have been caught-out applying standards over and above those outlined in the policies,” they state.

The OVGA took time to address some of the criticisms, suggesting that the draft standards will improve matters.

“There is substantial evidence that design standards of this type lead to improved outcomes for the community as a whole, and provide a clear, coherent and fair context for development,” the organisation said.

Melbourne is Australia’s fastest growing municipality, and housing prices have far outpaced income growth in recent years. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Australia ranks as the third least affordable country in the world.