Updates to Better Apartment Design Standards

1 Mar 2021

, News

Yesterday, the Victorian Government released the updated Better Apartment Design Standards, which will be implemented via a planning scheme amendment later in 2021. A minimum two-month transitional arrangement will apply to applications lodged before the amendment date.  

Throughout the consultation phase, UDIA Victoria cautioned the rigid application of these guidelines will lead to increasing construction costs that will erode project viability and ultimately reduce housing supply, housing diversity and housing affordability. Further, the Victorian economy will suffer from reduced investment and construction activity, now and into the future.  

This is the key message we are taking forward to Government as we continue to advocate for a reasonableness test to be applied the proposed changes announced yesterday. 

The Government’s proposed changes include:  

  • Communal open space should be provided in common areas of buildings of 10 dwellings or more to improve residents’ health and wellbeing and provide urban cooling. The current standard for communal open space applies to buildings of 40 dwellings or more. 
  • Landscaping should not be an afterthought in building design and planning but incorporated from the beginning of the process. Developers will also be required to include more areas with deep soil to encourage canopy tree growth.  
  • Building façades should be of a high quality, incorporating materials that are durable and make a positive contribution to the existing streetscape.  
  • Publicly accessible outdoor space within an apartment development or on surrounding streets should not have unacceptable wind impacts, as they create unpleasant spaces to walk and congregate. 
  • Street frontages should avoid blank walls or high fences. Car parking entrances and waste collection areas should not be visible from the street.  

UDIA Victoria is most concerned about the proposed landscaped communal open space, on the basis that our modelling suggests it would add up to $18k per apartment, plus annual maintenance costs. Additionally, there’s little doubt that the proposed changes stifle diversity, innovation and apply a one-size-fits-all approach to apartment development that ignores different site contexts.  

As we move towards the amendment date, UDIA Victoria is strongly advocating for changes that preserve industry’s capacity to deliver homes that suit different cohorts of the market, including assurance that council implementation of the Standards is flexible enough to meet changing market contexts.  

On a positive note, we commend the Government on announcing the standards now to give time for industry and councils to familiarise themselves with the changes, and for industry to highlight necessary changes to the updated guidelines before they are implemented. We also welcome the decision to remove the requirement for balconies on buildings taller than 40 metres, which allows for innovative approaches to the use of space such as winter gardens. 

In the media, UDIA Victoria President, Ashley Williams said: “The industry remains concerned that the rigid application of these guidelines will lead to increasing construction costs that will erode project viability and ultimately lead to reduced housing supply and housing affordability. 

“When taken with a range of previously announced planning controls and increasing regulation, the apartment market will likely suffer a significant reduction in new projects that make it into construction.” Read more in the Australian Financial Review here. 

Further media quotes from UDIA Victoria President, Ashley Williams:  

  • “Apartment developers share government’s intent to deliver homes that meet the evolving needs of our population. But the standards’ one-size-fits-all approach to apartments completely erodes industry’s capacity to deliver homes that suit different cohorts of the market. The result will be more costly apartments, that are only suitable for one type of buyer.” 
  • “It’s a good headline – government increasing communal open space – but let’s take a moment to think about it practically, and from a homebuyer’s perspective. Does every apartment buyer want to give up their private balcony, or the extra internal space, for a communal rooftop garden that increases their owner’s corporation fees? Sure, it will suit some, but not all. One of our members conducted a resident survey asking if they wanted a communal space and they absolutely did not.  

    “We estimate the proposed landscaped communal open space will add up to $20k per apartment. Shouldn’t we give homebuyers a choice about whether they want to opt into that?” 
  • “Overly prescriptive guidelines leave no room for diversity and innovation. When demand for a different type of apartment emerges, the industry won’t be able to respond to that. We’re in the business of delivering homes that people want and need; removing our ability to do that is deeply concerning.” 
  • “From a homebuyer’s point of view, this is not a positive change. The guidelines will increase costs and reduce housing options.” 
  • “The other issue of course is that the apartment sector has been hit hard by COVID. This is another blow that will challenge our recovery.”  

Changes to the Better Apartment Design Standards are explained in fact sheets provided by DELWP: 

Click here for the Better Apartments Industry and Council Fact Sheet.

Click here for the Better Apartments Community Fact Sheet.

UDIA Victoria Policy Submissions: Better Apartments Design Standards 

Click here to see our April 2020 submission: Response to Draft Standards.

Click here to see our October 2019 submission: Response to Discussion Paper.


Hyatt Nidam

Engagement and Communications Manager, UDIA Victoria

E: hyatt@udiavic.com.au

M: 0478 415 105