Apartment design standards are in the midst of an overhaul in New South Wales. The state’s Department of Planning and Environment has updated the Residential Flat Design Code introduced in 2002 and replaced it with the Apartment Design Guide.

As with the code it replaces, the new Guide is intended to be used with State Environmental Planning Policy No. 65 — Design Quality of Residential Flat Buildings (SEPP 65).

Minister for Planning Pru Goward said the proposed changes were part of the NSW Government’s continued efforts to put downward pressure on house prices, provide more housing choice, and better reflect changing consumer preferences. The department estimated that the new guidelines “could see the cost of a new apartment slashed by up to $50,000.”

That would be a welcome change, as Sydney is one of the world’s most expensive housing markets, along with Hong Kong and Vancouver, B.C.

With Australia in a housing boom, and housing prices in Sydney rising by 14.3 per cent in 2013, Goward said “It’s all part of planning for a growing NSW – ensuring home quality and choice to meet demand while helping to maintain important quality of life.”

Over the next 20 years, Sydney is projected to add 1.6 million people, which creates the need for 665,000 more homes. Other metropolitan areas will add 21 per cent more residents, while regional NSW will grow by 11 per cent. According to Goward, many will be senior citizens who would prefer apartment living to a detached house.

“The population of NSW is changing – single-person households are the fastest-growing dwelling type and by 2031 one in five people living in NSW will be aged 65 and over,” she said.

“Research has shown only 41 per cent of Sydneysiders would choose to live in a detached house…but this type of housing currently makes up 62 per cent of Sydney housing stock.”

Goward said the new guidelines will ensure that apartments will meet minimum standards for communal open space, light, air, and privacy.

SEPP 65 and the Apartment Design Guide address mixed-use development with a residential component, shop top housing, and residential flat buildings. Some key requirements from the guide include the following:

  • Living rooms and private open spaces of at least 70 per cent of apartments in a building receive a minimum of three hours of direct sunlight between 9 am and 3 pm in mid-winter
  • A minimum of four hours of solar access is retained to solar collectors on neighbouring buildings
  • Development incorporates passive solar design to optimise heat storage in winter and reduce heat transfer in summer
  • Urban stormwater is treated on site before being discharged to receiving waters
  • Green walls and/or facades make positive contributions to the environment and to urban amenity more generally. They can also improve the sustainability performance of a building
  • Opportunities to use roof space for residential accommodation and open space are maximised
  • A range of apartment types and sizes is provided to cater for different household types now and into the future
  • Apartment layout can accommodate a variety of household activities and occupant needs
  • New additions to existing buildings are contemporary and complementary
  • Street frontage activity is maximised where ground floor apartments are located
  • Building facades provide visual interest along the street while respecting the character of the local area

According to the guidelines, studio apartments must be at least 35 square metres in size, with one-bedrooms at least 50 square metres, two-bedrooms 70 or more square metres and three-bedrooms at least 95 square metres.