Architects buy into apartment standards debate

The Institute of Architects has bought into the debate around minimum standards for apartments, with Victorian president Peter Malatt saying the matter was a “wellbeing” issue for residents.

“There are many apartments in Melbourne that don’t even have a balcony. 

I don’t think that’s acceptable. 

That’s not a house, when you can’t even step outside,” he said.

“You can’t live like that for more than 12 months.  You’d go mad.  Really, this is a public interest issue and it’s a wellbeing issue for the people living in these places.” Mr Malatt said the new Planning Minister Richard Wynne was correct to be worried about apartment standards.

“It’s terrible. They’re building things that are practically uninhabitable and its not sustainable,” he said.

“You can’t just make things smaller and smaller and keep making bigger profits from smaller parcels of land.  It’s just not sustainable. 

That’s the key thing that people in the development industry have to understand.  Standards are actually in everyone’s long-term interests – including the development industry.”

“They need to get on board. 

The Property Council needs to get on board. I’m sick of hearing the Property Council opposing standards. 

I think it indefensible.

  I simply don’t think there’s any moral or ethical basis for not wanting standards.” Mr Malatt rejected the argument that the introduction of standards would adversely affect affordability.

“Standards were brought into Sydney more than 10 years ago and there was a little hiatus while people adjusted to it but the Sydney apartment market is now as strong as anywhere,” he said.

“There is no economic basis for opposing standards. 

I will not accept it on an affordability basis either because the market sets affordability – not the developer.”

Acknowledging that cheaper investment apartments, translated into cheaper rents, Mr Malatt nevertheless said standards still needed to be applied.

“It is providing a basis of rental properties within the inner city area which is beneficial for the student population, for people who work in the city and want to live close in, for professionals who want to live in the inner ring,” he said.

“And that’s all great, but they should be the kinds of properties that you get to spend five to 10 years in and happily make a home out of. 

They shouldn’t be dog boxes without a balcony and without opening windows and without bedrooms without any natural light or ventilation.”

He said he supported the generally acceptable default minimum apartment size in Sydney – 50 sqm for a one-bedder; 70 sqm for a two-bedroom apartment; and 95 sqm for three bedrooms.

He said the only acceptable departure from these minimums should be at the discretion of an independent panel of expert architects and urban designers administered by the State Architect’s office.

“I think that the minimum standards should include minimum sizes. 

I think any departure from that rule should be given only if the development has an independent design assessment – by an expert panel put together by the Government Architect,” he said.

Mr Malatt said he understood the need for more inner-city accommodation and he was not anti-development.

“We do need the growth but it has to be done in a manner which is sustainable. 

It’s got to be done in a manner which is still okay in 20 or 30 years,” he said.

“Most of the developers are gone in two years. 

Once they’ve got their money they’re out of there. 

And half of the time they get the permit and they flip the site anyway and they don’t even build it. 

Someone else builds it.”

Mr Malatt said he believed Mr Wynne would pay more attention to the views of the City of Melbourne.

“The city should be a free economic zone to a large degree and I think the City of Melbourne recognises and is supportive of that. 

But development needs to be controlled and there needs to be public benefits,” he said.

“There can’t just be private benefits alone. There has to be consideration of the public interest in every permit.”

He said the previous government appeared to pay too much attention to interest groups.

“The Government needs to show leadership. 

People with decision-making power needs to show leadership and not just do what interest groups want them to do,” he said.

“I think that happened in the last government. 

I think that interest groups, from both ends of the scale – from Save Our Suburbs as well as off-shore developers – were given preference over sensible long-term planning objectives.”

“Planning objectives don’t just operate for next year or the year after, they operate for decades to come.

  So decisions made today have a 30, 40, 50 year impact.”

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