The latest review of the R Codes has been released and will be gazetted and operational on 2nd August. This review follows some inconsequential reviews in the mid 2000s and the important 2010 introduction of the Multi-unit Code. The latest review leaves the multi-unit provisions alone and focuses on the single house and group dwelling codes.
When the draft suggestions of the review were released in July 2011 there were a number of ill-considered and unjustified proposals such as a requirement for all local policies to be put on the WAPC website, excessive amplification of objectives, the reduction of the size of aged persons accommodation, the use of finished floor level rather than natural ground level and nil boundary setbacks for outbuildings. Thankfully these proposals have not found their way into the new Code.
A number of changes have been introduced which in nearly every case result in the loosening of standards or the adoption of more generous provisions for the developer. For instance, of the 26 changes to lot sizes, setbacks and open space on Table 1, all are more generous than the current standards. In addition there are 14 clauses which have been changed to provide more lenient controls (car parking, walls, privacy and other matters as detailed in the Table below). As pointed out in the supporting Planning Bulletin:
“Generally, the local government and community sought increased certainty, whilst the development industry sought increased flexibility. Often these fundamental differences in opposing views and positions resulted in conflicting objectives, issues and comments, which required careful consideration and analysis. Wherever possible, a considered and balanced outcome was found”.
However, what isn’t acknowledged is that in most cases the view of the development industry has prevailed. To some extent this is understandable as a consequence of falling lot sizes, increasing densities and the preference for large houses which means that it is harder to retain the level of amenity previously provided to neighbours. However, this reality is not presented – instead we have the statement that a “balanced outcome was found”.
In addition, changes have been introduced that were not originally advertised. It is the case that you can’t keep readvertising changes that come out of submissions, but it is a questionable practice unless the changes are likely to be universally supported. The unadvertised reduction in the average lot size from 500m2 to 450m2 is significant and impacts over a wide area. The Planning Bulletin states that the reduction in the average lot size for R20 is to return to the pre-2002 situation but this is incorrect (under the 1991 R Codes the average lot size for single houses under R20 was 500m2). This significant change which will facilitate many subdivisions without having to go through a public rezoning process, relies for its main justification on a falsehood!
The reduction in battleaxe lot sizes (another change that was not advertised), which could result in detrimental amenity impacts to neighbours, could also be of concern; however, the lesser requirements for codes over R50 is not so concerning.
It can be expected that there will be more pressure on those issuing Building Permits to ensure that Code requirements are met in view of the reduction in the size of lots for which a DA is required from 350m2 to 260m2 (another unadvertised amendment). With the desire of many to choose a small lot and then try to cram the maximum affordable one storey house on it can be predicted to be a recipe for conflict with the Codes. A 260m2 lot can, according to the 45% open space requirement of the Codes, only have a site coverage of 143m2 – a dwelling of not much over 100m2 when you take out the ubiquitous double garage. This is well under the size of the project home people are contracting for. Building surveyors be prepared for disputes here!
The lesser on-site parking standard near public transport is superficially sensible and indeed a courageous attempt to change behaviour. But when you assess the impact on the areas where there will now only be a need for one car parking bay on-site, the streets could be over-parked. My niece who lives in Fulham, London, tells me that everyone in her street is afraid to go for a drive in case they never get a parking spot again. Possibly the changes should have been less dramatic as with the multi-unit code provisions where the requirement near public transport is 25% reduced, rather than the 100% reduction for single and grouped dwellings effective August 2nd! As yet people who live within 800m of a station don’t have fewer cars, even if they do catch a train every now and again. I live close to West Leederville station, but note that there are more houses in my street with two or three cars than one – and my neighbour has seven! On-site parking is needed for car storage for an affluent society and bears little relationship to public transport usage so halving the standard could prove to be an initiative regretted in time.
Changes to Ancillary Accommodation are broadly sensible and welcome. The requirement that they be occupied by a family member and the limited floor area was due to over-cautious local government in lead-up to the 2002 Code. There was the fear that such dwellings would proliferate and double the density by stealth. Now there is greater awareness of the need to find ways of accommodating more housing units in established areas and this is one method if it is taken up although the deletion of the outdoor living area is misjudged.
The Code document is presented in a different format. The Code is split into five sections (Context, Streetscape, Site Planning and Design, Building Design and Special Purpose Dwellings) rather than the ten elements of the 2002 and later Code. This creates some confusion, for instance some of the setback controls are under Context and others under Streetscape, open space controls are split between Context and Site Planning and Design and height controls are found under Context while privacy and overshadowing controls are under the Building Design section. Notwithstanding, the actual provisions of the 2013 Code are largely the same as the previous ones once you know where to locate them.
There are numerous minor changes to headings which are inconsequential and the complete clause renumbering may be a headache for those with specific clause references in their scheme or policies (most of the changes that are summarised over six pages in the accompanying information, are minor).
The advertised promised return to interleaving the Explanatory Guidelines rather than having them as a long-forgotten separate dust-covered document has not been followed through but the beneficial result is a shorter R Code document. The insertion of some of the diagrams from the explanatory guidelines into the Code Figures will be welcomed by many as will the greater specification of the application information requirements.
Much is made of the editorial changes that pervade the new code – such as “Design Principles” rather than “Performance Criteria” and “Deemed to Comply” rather than “Acceptable Development”. If this helps to press home the relationship between the two paths to development assessment all well and good, but those familiar with past Code provisions have not been so confused. Also, it is erroneously stated that the new Code will allow applicants to undertake consultation – but since 2002 this has been the case (subject to registered post etc) and the statement that proposals should only be advertised when they don’t comply has similarly been the case in the past (although some SAT decisions may have confused the issue).
The Planning Bulletin says a report on submissions is available on the website – but at the time of writing it isn’t.
Local planning policy and local development plan proposed standard formats are provided in the Explanatory Guidelines – these are useful although it is not compulsory to follow them.
The R Codes are currently downloadable and can be used for cut and paste with proposed hyperlinks to ease usage – this initiative is to be commended.
Most of the key provisions of the new Codes reflect those we are familiar with and support. Some of the new provisions are welcome.
The eleventh hour slipping-in of significant changes and the one way direction of the changes is of significant concern.
Whether it be DAPs, so called Metropolitan local government reform or the R Codes – the only voice that appears to be listened to is that of the development industry. Although the most important word in the planning universe is “Balance”, this appears to be the last thing we are getting.
TABLE – Changed standards in new Codes
|Cl. No. 2010, and 2013||Provision||Change||+ (higher) or – (lower) standard||Comment|
|Planning approval for single houses||Reduced lot size from 350m2 to 260m2 for planning approval||–||Not advertised|
|Aged and dependent dwellings||Reduced site area applied to average not minimum.||Neutral||Not advertised|
|Walls on boundary||Increased max. and av. height in R 20 and R25||–|
|Incursions into setback area||Lesser incursion of .75m rather than 1.0m but deletion of eaves allowance.||Neutral||Not advertised|
|Balconies||Minimum dimension increased from 2.0m to 2.4m.||+|
|On-site parking||Lesser requirement proximate to public transport.||–|
|On-site parking||Nil requirement proximate to public transport for ancillary dwelling.||–||Not advertised|
|Crossovers||Deletion of need to minimise width to 40%.||–||Not advertised|
|Retaining walls||Allowance of small walls on boundary.||–|
|Visual privacy||Lesser standards for over R50||–|
|Visual privacy multiple dwellings||Deletion of requirement for overlooking lower dwelling and open areas.||–||Not advertised|
|Solar access||Reduced requirement if abutting two lots||–||Not advertised|
|Solar access||Not to overshadow solar collector or major openings||+|
|Outbuildings||Rear setback in lower codes reduced||–|
|Utilities||Deleted requirement to provide clothe drying area in multi-dwellings.||–||Not advertised|
|Ancillary dwellings||Greater site area, no surveillance outdoor living area.||–||Partly not advertised
|Single bedroom dwellings||Greater site area and lesser outdoor living area.||–||Partly not advertised|
|Appendix 1 Definitions||Ancillary dwelling||Deletion of need for family relationship||–|
|Table 1||Standards||Reduced minimums R20-R80
Reduced average R20
Reduced battleaxe lot R20-R80
Reduced open space R50-R80
Reduced front setback R50 – R80
|–||Partly not advertised|