Apartment standards have been relaxed

By Shane Scanlan

Victoria’s new apartments standards to become law next month are significantly more relaxed than the draft that was circulated in the middle of last year.

The Property Council of Australia has taken the credit for securing “big wins” following the release by Planning Minister Richard Wynne of the new rules before Christmas.

Property Council of Australia CEO, Ken Morrison, in an email to members, said: “In Victoria we carved out the most harmful impacts of foreign investment taxes (for a second time), influenced the revamp of CBD planning controls and secured big wins in new apartment standards.”

A comparison between the draft and final document illustrates Mr Morrison’s point.

Gone are minimum defined building setbacks which featured in the draft document.  Now a “reasonable distance” needs to be determined to ensure similarly-non-defined outcomes such as “adequate” daylight and “reasonable” views (called in the final document “visual connection to the external environment”).

There are still no minimum apartment sizes.  But, new to the discussion, is the introduction of minimum room sizes.  Bedrooms must be at least 3x3 metres (with master bedrooms needing an extra 400cm to accommodate a wardrobe) and living areas (excluding dining and kitchen areas) must be at least 10sqm for studios and one-bedders and 12sqm if the apartment has more than two bedrooms.

Minimum dimensions for lightwells have also disappeared and standards around windows have been softened.

In the draft document, windows needed to be visible from any point in a habitable room, but this requirement has been dropped.

Standards protecting from external noise have also been relaxed and now only apply to new apartments built within certain distances of industrial zones, roads and railways.  Whereas the draft standards applied a blanket ban on external noise in all new bedrooms above 35dB at night, the final document only mandates these limits near so-called (and very limited) “noise influence areas”.

Standards have been relaxed regarding how much communal open space should receive sunlight too.  The draft standards stipulated that 50 per cent needed to receive at least two hours between 9am and 3pm on June 1.  The final document relaxes the 50 per cent stipulation for areas greater than 250sqm – introducing a 125sqm alternative.

The government has also chosen a different approach to ensuring adequate natural ventilation.  The draft document stipulated opening windows in all habitable rooms less than 80m above the ground.  It suggested that 60 per cent of apartments less than 35m from the ground be naturally cross ventilated.  These formulas have been replaced with a rule that 40 per cent of apartments in a development “achieve effective cross ventilation”.

Minimum balcony sizes (private open space) have been tinkered with too, with a slight increase in minimum area for two-bedroom apartments (from 8 to 10sqm), also a slight increase in minimum dimension for three-bedroom apartments (from 2m to 2.4m) but a decrease of dimension for studio and one-bedroom balconies (from 2m to 1.8m).

Disabled access rules will now apply to only 50 per cent of dwellings.  The draft standards were to apply to all apartments, with the exception of 25 per cent of two-bedroom units.

On the other side of the coin, the standards have also been strengthened in a few areas.

The rules are firmer about protecting privacy stating that designs must: “Avoid direct views into habitable room windows and private open space of new and existing dwellings.”

The final standards have also increased the minimum storage space in new units. A studio apartment will require at least five cubic metres inside and a further three cubic metres elsewhere.  For three-bedrooms units or larger, the required minimum storage space rises to 12 cubic metres inside and a further six cubic metres elsewhere.

The final document mandates more communal open space for large apartment complexes.  While the draft set a minimum of 100sqm, the new standard is a minimum of 250sqm.

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