The State Government is amending the Residential Design Codes Volume 1 to guide future medium density residential development.
What is the new Medium Density Residential Housing Code? What do we mean by medium density development?
The State Government is delivering a program of reforms which are being implemented through legislative, regulatory and policy changes. New planning and design policies have been developed to meet the changing needs and expectations of our community and to improve the quality of our built environment.
A proposed new policy to guide delivery of medium density residential development in Western Australia has been released for public consultation.
This draft policy challenges traditional thinking about how we design and deliver medium density housing to foster design excellence, drive innovation and diversity, improve liveability and deliver better social and environmental outcomes.
The Medium Density Housing Code will form part of Western Australia’s Residential Design Codes Volume 1 – known as the R-Codes – and is open for public comment until 16 April 2021.
What developments are covered by the policy?
Medium density refers to the range of housing styles between traditional detached houses on large suburban lots and high-rise apartment blocks. It includes single, semi-detached, row and terrace houses, grouped dwellings (duplex, triplex and quadruplex villas) and multiple dwellings, including apartments up to four storeys high.
Who is the policy intended to help?
The draft medium density policy applies to single houses and grouped dwellings in areas coded R30 and above, and multiple dwellings coded R30-R60.
R-Codes are unique to the Western Australian planning system. R-Codes are applied by local governments to land through their local planning frameworks, to guide how many dwellings can be developed on a site or in a particular locality.
For more information about the R-Codes system, visit the R-Codes page.
What does the policy aim to do?
The draft medium density policy has been prepared to:
- support developers, planners, urban designers, architects, building designers, landscape architects, and other professionals involved in designing medium density dwellings or proposing a new development
- assist decision-makers and planning professionals in local and State government to develop strategic plans, prepare local controls and assess development applications
- inform the community about what they can expect when it comes to good design and planning practice for medium density housing.
How will the policy contribute to better streets and neighbourhoods?
WA’s proposed new medium density policy aims to improve the quality and choice of housing available to Western Australians by:
- ensuring development outcomes respond to the context and character of the site, street and neighbourhood in which they are located
- protecting amenity and quality of life for residents and neighbours by managing impacts such as noise, visual privacy, outlook, vehicle access and parking
- reducing the environmental impacts of development, particularly excessive site cover, stormwater management, protection of tree canopy and mitigation of urban heat island
- promoting a greater diversity of medium density housing types that provide the community with choice, including affordable options and universally accessible homes
- promoting greater consistency between local government jurisdictions and providing more clarity and certainty for landowners and developers
- informing and guiding development proponents, assessors, decision-makers and the community about good design in the medium density context.
How will the policy enhance sustainability in house design?
The draft policy promotes house designs that are responsive to the site and community in which they are being built. It includes provisions to:
- encourage buildings that respond to site characteristics including natural and cultural features, climate, streetscape and built form character
- incentivise the development of sites that are most suited to medium density housing – for example, corner lots, block ends, larger sites and sites with laneway access
- encourage tree retention and planting of new trees
- improve streetscapes through landscaping provision requirements for dwellings to address streets, to limit garage dominance and for appropriate front fence profiles.
How will the policy achieve development that considers the amenity of neighbouring properties?
The draft medium density policy aims to reduce the environmental impact of housing development and includes provisions to:
- protect and restore the urban tree canopy through retention of trees and planting of new trees
- reduce excessive building site cover and impervious surfaces and to promote application of water sensitive urban design (WSUD) principles
- improve the energy efficiency performance of new housing by optimising access to daylight, winter solar benefit, shading, and natural ventilation.
How will the policy contribute to more liveable housing?
The draft policy will improve our built environment by ensuring that new development fits harmoniously and brings value to our existing communities. It includes:
- provisions to manage potential impacts of development on adjoining properties, including visual privacy and overshadowing
- increasing landscaping requirements, particularly planting and preservation of trees
- a sliding scale of building height, building site cover and boundary setback controls that respond to the density and intensity of development for that location
- provision to promote a wider diversity of housing types and dwellings that have a street presence, over dwellings built one behind another.
Will the policy help restore the urban tree canopy?
The draft policy captures the need for greater diversity, flexibility and liveability in the housing we create. It includes provisions for:
- layouts that support our indoor-outdoor lifestyle with gardens connected to open-plan living areas and direct access to sunlight and natural ventilation
- prioritising flexible configuration inside and out with consolidated, multifunctional spaces, such as space for a trampoline or herb garden outside and embracing the concept of ‘one main room’ that can be adapted for different uses or different life stages
- adding studios, granny flats or an office so people can build a separate live-work area or accommodation for relatives and guests to stay
- increased storage with space for lifestyle and recreation accessories, such as bikes.
Why does Western Australia need more and better medium density development?
The draft policy encourages site planning to maximise tree retention and to protect the viability of trees on neighbouring properties. It also includes measures for additional tree planting and requirements for deep soil areas to improve the tree canopy over the long term.
Trees and gardens make a significant contribution to the ecology, character and amenity of neighbourhoods. As well as improving outlook and privacy, they provide habitat for fauna, shade, stormwater management and microclimate benefits.
Removing trees from private land is contributing to a significant loss of the urban tree canopy, which can take decades to replace, and has added to community concerns around infill development.
Why do we need a new Medium Density Housing Code?
WA needs more homes to accommodate our growing population and a better standard of medium density housing to meet the changing lifestyle needs of our community and environment.
1. Lifestyles are different today. People want more choice in homes, so they don't have to move out of their neighbourhood as their needs change. Young people also want to be able to afford to buy or rent in suburbs near family, jobs and education. Singles and blended families need flexible accommodation. And having a diverse mix of people adds richness to our neighbourhoods.
2. Accommodating for future growth. Smart, targeted density in the right location is a critical element in accommodating the extra 1.5 million people who are expected to live in the Perth and Peel regions over the next 30 years.
These families don’t just need homes; they also need schools, shops, hospitals, transport and jobs nearby.
It is estimated that 800,000 new homes will be needed across the 19 local government areas in Perth’s metropolitan area. Some 380,000 new homes will be built in existing suburbs to limit urban sprawl and create a consolidated and connected city.
As a society, we cannot afford to keep building infrastructure in new areas if we let our suburbs sprawl. Instead, we need to find better ways to give more people access to the infrastructure that is already in place, without upsetting the harmony and balance in our suburbs.
Medium density is an opportunity to help achieve infill targets and provide housing choice for our growing population in Perth and Peel, as well as our regional cities and towns.
3. Good design at the centre of all planning and development. Industry and community have both called for better alternatives to traditional infill and new policies to drive more innovative and thoughtful design. This need has become even more acute since COVID-19 which has reinforced the desirability of useable landscaped gardens, natural light and ventilation, and adequate room to study or work from home.
When does the new policy come into effect?
Western Australia’s more recent approaches to medium density housing are not sustainable. The range of homes being delivered often don’t suit our lifestyles or add to the amenity of our neighbourhoods, and industry and community have both said they want planning regulations to drive innovative and site-responsive design.
Increasing the diversity of quality medium density housing in areas that are well supported by transport, jobs, shops and other community infrastructure is what we need to focus on.
In the past 30 years, villa-style infill housing has dominated. Typically, this involves three or more units squeezed onto a single suburban block with long driveways, hot rooftops, few trees and little consideration for the impact on neighbours. This single form of development has been so prevalent in some areas that it has changed the character of entire suburbs.
Research has demonstrated that this outdated approach costs the community $29,000 per building, in social and environmental impacts, over a 20-year building life, or across the State a cost of $117 million a year*.
* Source: Wider costs of medium density development, SGS Economics & Planning, 2020.
What consultation has been undertaken so far?
The draft policy was released in November 2020 for public comment until 16 April 2021. Once the public consultation period is over, all comments will be reviewed and considered and a revised version, incorporating public feedback, will be considered by the Western Australian Planning Commission.
The new State Planning Policy 7.3 - Medium Density Residential Housing Code will come into effect once a notice is published in the Government Gazette, which is likely to happen by the end of 2021. A transition period will be provided to assist stakeholders implement the new code.
Who is responsible for assessing development proposals against the R-Codes?
The draft policy has already been through extensive consultation and testing with government and local government stakeholders, planning and design experts and the property sector, to balance the need for better quality homes with construction costs.
As part of that development process, the draft policy was trialled by 12 leading architects and building designers, who designed 24 schemes for six different lot scenarios common across metropolitan Perth. The design schemes then underwent construction costing and feasibility analysis to further refine the provisions of the draft policy prior to its release.
What are the Medium Density Explanatory Guidelines and how should they be used?
The responsibility for assessing development proposals against the new policy and R-Codes lies with the planning decision-maker in each jurisdiction. In most instances, this is the local government for the area in which the proposed development is located.
Other decision-makers can include the Western Australian Planning Commission, a Development Assessment Panel or Development WA.
What is the Medium Density Housing Diversity Guide and how should it be used?
The Explanatory Guidelines are a “how to” guide that has been produced to assist landowners, building professionals and regulators to achieve the best outcomes from application of the Code.
This document provides advice and guidance to help interpret, design and assess proposals against the design principles and deemed-to-comply provisions of the draft policy.
The Housing Diversity Guide is a resource for design, planning, development and building professionals. It has been prepared to show how the draft policy can be applied to a range of common medium density housing forms in Western Australia.
Its purpose is to promote greater diversity in medium density housing in both established and new urban areas.