Apartment rules overhaul: still tiny but at least they’ll have windows
The Age
By: Aisha Dow
14 August 2016

Melbourne's "dog box" apartments will be targeted by new design rules banning windowless bedrooms and living areas, but the Andrews government has chosen not to introduce minimum dwelling sizes.

The draft design standards have been released alongside research showing 60 per cent of apartments recently constructed in Melbourne were of low quality.

not fit to live in

Planning Minister Richard Wynne said some of the city's high-rise units were not fit to live in and failed to provide adequate natural light, fresh air and storage.

A number of developers had told him they had built apartments even they were not "particularly proud of".

it was really a race to the bottom

"Effectively for some of the developments around the city I think it was really a race to the bottom," Mr Wynne said.

"The reforms are plugging the hole in the planning rules which allowed dog boxes to be built, because we want future apartments to be constructed for long-term living."

The long-awaited standards, announced on Sunday, will put an end to apartments with small windowless rooms, borrowed light or "saddleback" designs, where a window to a room is located at the end of a long corridor.

For the first time, all bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens and studies will require windows that are visible from all points in a room.

New apartments will be required to have between six to 10 cubic metres of extra storage space. This reform was encouraged by the investigation into the fire at Docklands' Lacrosse building that revealed residents were storing their possessions in fire hydrant cupboards and on balconies, a practice that helped fuel the blaze.

New open space standards for each apartment of up to 12 square metres are expected to result in more balconies, communal space, courtyards and parks in the inner city.

provisions to reduce noise travelling into apartments

The rules also include provisions to reduce noise travelling into apartments (mechanical plants cannot be next to bedrooms), improve cross-ventilation of high-rise towers and discourage narrow living rooms with low ceilings.



But there is nothing in the new rules to prevent developers filling their towers with tiny apartments.

It had been speculated that Melbourne would follow in the footsteps of other major international cities by introducing minimum apartment sizes.

In Sydney, one-bedrooms units must be at least 50 square metres, two-bedroom apartments at least 70 square metres and three-bedrooms at least 90 square metres.

But the introduction of similar rules in Melbourne was fiercely opposed by property groups, who warned an increase of even five square metres could add up to $45,000 to the price of an apartment.

Mr Wynne said it was possible to have smaller apartments "as long as they were very well designed".

The Planning Institute of Australia's Victorian president James Larmour-Reid said he was disappointed minimum sizes had not been introduced at least as a "discretionary" requirement.

He said the institute was broadly very supportive of the proposed guidelines.

"If we don't improve the standards we are going to have very long-term problems, with minimum-sized and very low amenity apartments. We think this is a very important issue," Mr Larmour-Reid said.



The Property Council had lobbied against restricted dwelling sizes and acting Victorian executive director Asher Judah said he believed the new apartment guidelines reflected "a fair place between community concern, market demand and industry feedback".

But he said the council had outstanding concerns about the new cross ventilation and borrowed light requirements.

"These two reforms will undermine design freedom and apartment affordability. We believe there are easier ways to achieve improved amenity," he said.

The standards will be mandatory, unless the council or planning minister approves an alternative design.

Community and stakeholder consultation on the draft standards will continue until September 16. For more information visit: http://haveyoursay.delwp.vic.gov.au/better-apartments


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