SUBMISSION ON AMENDMENTS TO THE RESIDENTIAL DESIGN CODES
The Association welcomes the opportunity to make a submission on the proposed amendments to State Planning Policy 3.1 – Residential Design Codes: Multiple dwellings, parking and other incidental changes.
There has been community concern about developments that are being built in predominantly single dwelling neighbourhoods, and viewed as being out of character and having a detrimental impact on the overall amenity of an area.
In addition, there has been concern that the resulting increases in resident populations are causing parking overflow problems, particularly as the R-Codes have lower parking requirements for multiple dwellings than for single dwellings.
In September 2014 the City of Stirling adopted an amendment to its Town Planning Scheme to prohibit multiple dwellings within areas coded R40 and below. This initiative was a response to community objections arising from a large number of multiple dwellings being developed and proposed in suburban areas. The amendment has yet to be considered by the WAPC and the Minister. Other local governments have similar concerns. However, the major cause of concern that needs to be addressed relates to the flexible application of plot ratio controls suggesting there are no limits to the residential density permissible for multiple dwellings.
DISCRETION WITH PLOT RATIO
A fundamental component of the Residential Design Codes is the permissible densities as depicted on the Scheme map. These indicate what housing density the community can expect. Expectations of landowners and the public concerning the future amenity and development potential of an area are based very largely on the understanding of the allowable density.
The Multi-unit code was introduced into the Residential Design Codes in 2010 and was generally welcomed by local government planners on the grounds that it provided an incentive to build smaller dwellings. But it was never expected that the certainty of Scheme density codings would be overlooked. The second column of Table 4 that stated “maximum plot ratio” was presumed to be taken literally.
What has been occurring over the past few years is that the multiple dwelling provisions of the Code relating to plot ratio have been interpreted as being discretionary and subject to Design Principles. So, in an area coded R40 where the community should reasonably expect around 40 single dwellings per net hectare, or possibly 50 to 60 smaller two bedroomed multiple dwellings – we are seeing approvals for over 120 per net hectare. There are cases where the plot ratio has been exceeded by over 250%.
It was never suggested when local governments commented on the Multi-unit Codes in 2009 that the substitution of minimum site area for plot ratio would have no limits. If that had been the known intent it would have been decried by all local government and their communities. It would have been pointed out that scheme reviews had not anticipated such densities when they evaluated amenity and servicing implications of the density codes displayed on the Scheme Map.
The problem has arisen due to a lack of clarity in the wording in Part 6 of the Codes (where it is not stated clearly whether plot ratio is or is not immutable), without reference to Part 7 which regulates discretion under the Codes. Part 7 of the Code, which states: “The decision-maker shall not amend or modify the R-Codes, to provide for greater or lesser requirements unless it relates to matters expressly permitted under the R-Codes to be amended or modified,” does not include plot ratio in the list of discretionary or amendable items. This means that discretion is not available. Maximum plot ratio is dealt with similarly to Minimum site area – neither can be varied beyond the specified limit in their respective Tables.
It was absolutely clear when the 2002 Codes were drafted that density codes indicated on the Scheme Map should not be undermined by discretionary provisions within the Code. However, there has clearly been an omission in the advice given to planners and this philosophy propounded in Part 7 has been overlooked in favour a more permissive interpretation which would have us believing that there is no real specified maximum plot ratio and it is all discretionary.
It is only legitimate to use the Design Principles to evaluate an application which meets the maximum plot ratio but still may not be acceptable in terms of the building’s visual bulk and scale in relation to the existing or future desired built form of the locality. Indeed this would be the conclusion from reading the Explanatory Guidelines which argue that when considering the plot ratio aspect of the Codes (ie clause 6.1.1) you should consider “wall lengths and heights, setbacks and façade treatments of the area, which collectively produces appropriate building bulk and suitable scale”. Nowhere in the Guidelines is it indicated that you could exceed the plot ratio.
The fundamental basis of the density Codes are being abused and if this is not set right we will get more reactions such as that in the City of Stirling where the community wants to throw out the whole Multi-unit code.
It is requested that in view of maximum plot ratio provisions for multiple dwellings on Table 4 taking the place of the minimum site area requirements for single houses and grouped dwellings on Table 1, it should be further clarified in the Codes that the plot ratio standards are not discretionary and cannot be exceeded.
The recent community disquiet over multiple dwelling developments would only be exacerbated by the inconsistent and uncertain application of plot ratio standards by differing interpretations of the Codes due to a lack of clarity in the wording.
MULTIPLE DWELLINGS IN R30 AND R35
The proposal to reintroduce site requirements, minimum open space and street setback requirements for R30 and R35 reflects the fact that the incentive is currently too high, and lowering it would thereby allay some community concern.
However, the resulting elimination of any incentive to build smaller dwellings aligned to the needs of small households would be unfortunate and would risk continuance of the unsustainable overbuilding on lots with single houses.
The problem recently demonstrated is that the incentive has been too great in the lower medium density codes. The current R30 and R35 plot ratio standards are very generous and this probably accounts for the recent attraction to developers to develop land under the current provisions which, in conjunction with reduced parking standards, has led to the negative community reaction.
A plot ratio of 0.4 would be appropriate in R30 and 0.5 in R35 based on modelling of typical unit sizes which indicates that this would give an incentive of around 30% for 100m2 and 100% for 60m2 units. Subject to the proviso that the plot ratio standards of Table 4 are immutable, it is considered that the best approach would be to reduce the plot ratio in the lower medium density codes rather than provide no bonus at all by reverting to the simple pre 2010 R Codes standards as proposed in the amendment.
The decrease in the permitted maximum plot ratio in R30 from 0.5 to 0.4, and in R35 from 0.6 to 0.5 would be a preferred response to community disquiet than that proposed in the amendment, subject to addressing the discretion concerning plot ratio. This would retain a reasonable level of incentive to encourage developers to deliver smaller dwellings. These reductions in plot ratio would also have the desired effect of increasing the open space which the proposed amendment also seeks to do by means of specifying minimum open space over each development site.
Notwithstanding this, local governments such as the City of Stirling should have the facility to restrict multiple dwellings to certain zones under their town planning scheme should their communities so desire.
CAR PARKING STANDARDS
The car parking requirements of the Codes remain inadequate. While the proposed modifications would result in a small increase in the requirement for small (less than 75m2) multiple dwellings as the requirement is proposed to increase from 0.75 bays per unit to one bay for small units in accessible locations this remains insufficient.
The existing standards which require between one and 1.5 bays per unit risk shortfalls impacting on the adjacent streets. It should be noted that even if the favourable proximity of a development to the public transport system may reduce vehicle usage, experience attests to the fact that this does not result in less car ownership.
It is considered that the concern regarding inadequate parking could be addressed by an appropriate increase in the provision of visitor parking spaces for all multiple dwellings from the current 0.25 per unit to 0.5. However this should be verified by the Department undertaking a study into the parking requirements for various sizes of multiple dwelling developments in various locations.
OTHER PROPOSED AMENDMENTS
A new clause 5.3.5 C5.7 is proposed to provide a more generous standard of 5.5m pavements for communal streets and provide much needed amenity and landscaping. The standard would require a minimum 10m wide communal street for 7-20 units and a 12m wide communal street for over 20 units. This is supported.
The proposed tabulated amendments under section 9 (which have, in most part, come about through errors introduced in 2008 and 2010) are supported.
The main concern identified by the Association relates to the unforeseen discretionary interpretation of the plot ratio provisions of the Multi-unit Code. Such an interpretation was never anticipated in 2009 when submissions were made and since has proven to result in a total abrogation of the nexus between the R Codes and Schemes. Unless this matter is addressed urgently the trust and certainty that the community holds for the R Codes and Schemes will be seriously jeopardized.
In other respects the proposed amendments are welcome as a response to some community disquiet regarding excessive development occurring in suburban areas. However, the disadvantage of the amendment is that it dispenses with the incentive to provide smaller housing units aligned to changing household needs.