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Better Apartment Design Standards Review_____

Tract - Better Apartment Design Standards - Plus Architecture

Better Apartment Design Standards Review

As a part of the Victorian Labor Government’s election in 2018, there was a commitment made to improve the external amenity of apartment buildings through reforms to the Better Apartment Design Standards (BADS).

The changes focussed on the requirements around open spaces, landscaping and the integration of buildings into their external environment and extensive consultation took place during 2019.

After being on the backburner during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Victoria, the draft revised Better Apartment Design Standards and accompanying Guidelines (BADS 2.0) were released over the weekend. They are proposed to take effect sometime this year.

At this stage, it is unclear whether these have been released for further comment, or if the drafts will become part of the Victoria Planning Provisions.

What are the Changes?

Whilst the changes are generally consistent with what was tabled during the consultation phases, there are a number of surprises, particularly in relation to balconies. The proposed changes are summarised as follows:

Balcony Size
A reduction in the area and dimension requirements for balconies where they face north or south.

Balconies for buildings greater than 40m in height
Deletion of the requirement to provide balconies for buildings over 40m / 13 storeys, but a new requirement for an equivalent space to be provided as additional internal space within the living area or bedrooms.

Communal open space
Required for developments with 10 or more dwellings (currently required for 40 or more dwellings). The space is to include landscaping (canopy trees and productive gardens) as well as space for entertainment, leisure and recreation. There is an allowance for some of the communal space to be provided indoors.

Building Quality
Insertion of a new Standard that requires an assessment of the quality and durability of building materials. A list of ‘preferred’ materials has also been provided in the accompanying guidelines.

Landscaping
Revisions to the requirement for deep soil canopy tree planting, with the notable deletion of the allowance to provide an ‘equivalent canopy cover’ where deep soil canopy tree planting cannot be provided. Instead, more extensive guidelines are provided as to how planter boxes can be deemed as deep soil canopy tree planting.

Wind Assessment
Requirement for a wind assessment to be prepared for buildings of 5 storeys of higher (assessed under Clause 58).

How Can Tract Assist?

Should you have any questions in relation to these changes or how they may impact your project, contact your existing Tract contact or contact Robert Carletti on 9429 6133.
Comments

The changes will no doubt provide increased amenity to future residents of apartment buildings – although it is not yet known if these revisions are practical, or if they will have unreasonable cost implications.

Without a doubt, the biggest surprise is the reduction to balcony sizes. This is particularly surprising given the media discourse during the COVID-19 lockdowns about the importance of access to open space. Having said this, the amended balcony sizes seek to ensure that there is a good level of daylight to living areas providing a more nuanced consideration of apartment amenity. This is a welcome change noting the many apartments which have struggled to achieve the BESS requirements for daylight levels where access to light has been compromised by balcony depth.

The removal of the balcony requirement for buildings over 13 storeys / 40m (with this space to instead be provided internally) is a practical amendment. It recognises the limited usability of balconies at this height (and of the oft-seen alternative of winter gardens).

The added requirements regarding the durability of quality of materials (particularly off the back of the cladding crisis) is also a constructive change that will ensure better longevity of buildings.

With respect to deep soil planting, the deletion of the alternative to provide an ‘equivalent canopy cover’ will present a challenge on constrained sites or where large basements are provided. The ‘equivalent canopy cover’ previously provided a recognition that many sites (for instance, those in a commercial context) did not need to provide extensive tree planting. Time will also tell whether the planter box requirements outlined (where the deep soil planting cannot be used) can be achieved, particularly given the typical locations communal space is often provided (such as on rooftops).

Whats Missing?

Given the growth of apartment typologies in recent years, it is no wonder that there has been such a substantial focus on improving the amenity of these buildings. However, it seems odd that in this time there have been no meaningful updates to ResCode. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is a disconnect between the BADS and ResCode Standards, with ResCode now falling behind in the assessment of overall internal amenity. What makes these buildings different from apartments that doesn’t require high quality building materials, or areas of communal open space for resident use?

It is also interesting that the variations that apply where BADS and ResCode standards are applied to public and social housing developments (via the recent introduction of Clauses 52.20 and 53.20 – the ‘Big Housing Build’ clauses) have not made it into BADS 2.0. For example, there is a recognition in the Big Housing Build clauses that it is appropriate to provide higher front fencing for up to 30% of a site frontage where secluded private open space is provided in a front yard. This has been ‘common practice’ for townhouse and apartment developments in recent years (albeit not recognised in the scheme), yet has not been included in this amendment, despite appearing to be a common sense change.

There are also a number of missed opportunities in relation to clarifying ambiguity, including whether the minimum ‘depth’ for living areas in apartments is intended to read as a minimum dimension.

Overall, it is positive that DEWLP have committed to ongoing monitoring of the BADs provisions and that there is a desire to listen to industry feedback as these Standards are applied in the ‘real world’. The changes are also a step in the right direction, however it would be beneficial to further review and refine some of the potentially problematic changes.

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Image Credit: Recent apartment building approval in Brunswick - PLUS Architecture
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