Design WA FAQs

Answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Design WA

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What is Design WA Stage One?

Design WA Stage One focuses on the overall design quality of the built environment. The policies are:

When will the policies take effect?

Design WA Stage One was launched on 18 February 2019 by the Minister for Planning, the Hon Rita Saffioti MLA.

SPP 7.0 and SPP 7.3 Volume 2 became operational on Friday 24 May 2019 when they were published in the Government Gazette.

The Design Review Guide became operational on 18 February 2019.

Why was there a delay in the policies becoming operational?

The three-month period between launch of the policies and gazettal provided for a period of adjustment in application and approval processes. It enabled key stakeholders, including designers and local governments, to become familiar with the new policies and documents prior to them becoming operational. This transition time was similar to previous R-Codes updates (i.e. introduction of the Multi-Unit Housing Codes in 2010).

The Design WA team at DPLH has engaged extensively with local governments and industry to deliver briefings during this time, and will continue doing so on an as-needed basis.

Are the Design WA documents available for download?

Yes, via

We encourage you to read them online, but they are also unlocked for printing.

Will the Department offer Design WA Stage One briefings post-implementation?

The Department will continue providing stakeholder briefings on an as-needed basis.

Keep an eye on the Planning Institute of Australia (WA) and Australian Institute of Architects (WA) websites in case future Design WA events are organised with these organisations:   

Are there any templates to help us?

Yes. The following guidance templates included as appendices within SPP 7.3 Residential Design Codes Volume 2 – Apartments are available for download as a Microsoft Word document (‘SPP 7.3 R-Codes Apartments – Appendices word version’).

  • A4 Design Development Guidance: Assists proponents as their designs develop. Includes a list of basic information that should be provided by the applicant for design review prior to development application.
  • A5 Development Application Guidance: Assists proponents in formulating the appropriate materials when submitting a development application.   
  • A6 Objectives Summary: Assists proponents and assessors to explain and assess the development against the Element Objectives listed in the Apartment Design Policy.

The following guidance templates included as appendices in the Design Review Guide are also available for download as a Microsoft Word document Design Review Guide - Appendices Word version:

  • DR1 Design Review Panel Meeting Agenda
  • DR2 Development Assessment Overview
  • DR3 Design Review Report and Recommendations
  • DR4 Model Terms of Reference

While the templates can be adapted where required, local governments are encouraged to think carefully about doing so. The templates have been prepared to enhance consistency across local governments and provide greater certainty to proponents.

Will any case studies be made available which are marked up against the Design WA principles?

Yes. We are providing case studies to assist stakeholders in understanding the new policies, with the first one recently uploaded on the Case studies page. These case studies should be read as guidance documents only. Stakeholders are encouraged to obtain relevant professional advice before applying the information contained within them.

What other resources are available to help us?

In addition to the templates, case studies and FAQs, we have developed videos for stakeholders including proponents, assessors and decision makers. A video has also been prepared on Design Review. The videos are available on the Stakeholder videos page. 

View the community-focused Design WA Stage One launch video.

What happens to the former R-Codes (SPP 3.1)on 24 May 2019?

As of 24 May 2019, SPP3.1 Residential Design Codes will be renamed State Planning Policy 7.3 Residential Design Codes Volume 1, with all existing content except for Part 6 to remain.

The new State Planning Policy 7.3 R-Codes Volume 2 – Apartments will replace the content of Part 6 of the R-Codes, focusing on improved design outcomes for apartments (multiple dwellings).

What happens to the existing local planning policies that were properly adopted before gazettal of the new R-Codes?

This is covered in greater depth within section 1.2 of SPP7.3 Volume 2.

Local governments will need to ensure that local planning policies and local development plans structure plans and activity centre plans that amend or replace sections identified in clause 1.2.3 are appropriately adopted, current and consistent with the new R-Codes. A properly-adopted local planning framework with provisions covering matters identified in clause 1.2.2 will continue to apply.

Local Planning Policies and Local Development Plans

For pre-existing local planning policies and local development plans, SPP7.3 Volume 2 will prevail to the extent of any inconsistency over local planning provisions covering matters identified in clause 1.2.3.

We encourage local governments to audit their local planning policies and local development plans. Where a local government wishes to retain local planning policies and local development plans containing provisions which replace the Acceptable Outcomes of the Elements listed in clause 1.2.3, these will need to be submitted to the Department for WAPC approval. Local governments are continuing to review these documents and the Department is working on a consolidated process for WAPC to approve local planning frameworks that amend or replace parts of SPP7.3 Volume 2.

Structure Plans and Activity Centre Plans

At its 1 May 2019 meeting, the WAPC resolved that the provisions of all properly approved structure plans and activity centre plans (ie those approved by the WAPC since 19 October 2015) that existed prior to the gazettal of R-Codes Vol.2 (24 May 2019) that amend or replace any of the provisions of R-Codes Vol.2 will continue to apply to the extent of any inconsistencies and are not superseded by R-Codes Vol.2. This means that pre-existing properly adopted structure plans and activity centre plans will not be required to be submitted for WAPC approval and will continue to apply.

A Position Statement has been prepared to assist local governments and stakeholders in determining which instruments require WAPC approval.

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How does Design WA Stage One apply to apartments on land without an R-Code or to MRA and Improvement Scheme Areas?

This largely depends on what the relevant scheme provision that reads the R-Codes into the scheme provides for. Clause 25(4) of the model provisions contained in the Planning and Development (Local Planning Schemes) Regulations 2015 provides: “The R-Codes apply to an area if the area has a coding number superimposed on it in accordance with subclause (3).” Therefore, for schemes that are consistent with the model provisions, it will be the case that the R-Codes apply where there is a coding number on the scheme map. In all other instances, the R-Codes will need to be given ‘due regard’ in accordance with clause 67(c) of the deemed provisions. 

It is noted that in the previous Part 6 of the former R-Codes (SPP 3.1), land zoned for mixed use development without an assigned R-Code should be assessed as R-AC3. This is no longer included in the new R-Codes (SPP 7.3). Further consultation with the Department is encouraged in these limited instances for mixed use zone land without an R-Coding.

The R-Codes will generally not apply to land within Improvement Scheme Areas and MRA redevelopment areas unless stated within the scheme text. For further clarification, please contact the relevant authority.

If amendments are required to a development application approved before Design WA Stage One took effect, does the entire application need to be reassessed or only the aspect being amended?

If the application is not approved on or after 24 May 2019, local authorities will be required to assess it under SPP7.3 R-Codes Volume 2. This also applies where amendments are proposed to existing development approvals. For details on specific proposals, please contact the relevant local government. 

When should local governments require advertising to adjoining owners and occupiers?

Part 4 of the former R-Codes (SPP 3.1) set out the consultation practices for residential development and will continue to apply to both volumes of the R-Codes – including Volume 2 which replaces Part 6 of SPP 3.1 upon gazettal of Design WA Stage One on 24 May 2019.

It is noted that the former R-Codes were definitive with regards to consultation not being required where a proposal met deemed-to-comply (refer to Part 4 of SPP 3.1).  Whilst there is no deemed-to-comply pathway under SPP7.3 Volume 2,
a performance-based design and assessment has similarities with the design principles under Part 6 of the former R-Codes.

Under SPP7.3 Volume 2, there may be grounds for consultation where a proposal utilises the design guidance approach and there is a possible impact on the amenity of adjoining owners and occupiers. Consultation may also be specifically required by the applicable planning scheme or relevant local planning policy.  

It is recommended that local governments review their public consultation framework and procedures to ensure alignment.

Design WA Stage One is performance-based. How will this hold up with respect to applications for review at the State Administrative Tribunal?

Performance-based design principles identify the objectives to be met without prescribing how to achieve them. This allows flexibility for developers and designers to provide innovative solutions to design challenges and to better reconcile design requirements against the complexities of site and content.

Good decision making is based on evidence and well-considered information.

Design review is an essential component of this approach as qualitative assessment is required to determine whether the required performance outcomes have been achieved. Engaging in design review early in the process will help proponents improve the design quality of their project and application, hopefully enabling a smoother approvals process. Where a matter is referred to the State Administrative Tribunal for review, the Design Review Panel Chair may also be invited to attend proceedings to discuss the proposal. 

How will Design WA Stage One be applied consistently across local governments and Development Assessment Panels?

The Department has briefed various local governments and DAP members on the Design WA Stage One policies and this will continue where required post-implementation on 24 May 2019. 

In addition, SPP 7.3 and the Design Review Guide include templates in their appendices. The Microsoft Word versions of these templates are available under the ‘Additional resources’ section. While the templates can be tailored, they have been provided to enhance consistency across local governments and provide greater certainty to proponents. 

The Office of the Government Architect will be offering training for Design Review Panel Chairs to improve consistency in the design review process. Please contact them for further information via or (08) 6551 9483.

How does Design WA Stage One improve the retention of trees when land is developed?

The removal of trees from private land is contributing to a significant loss of urban tree canopy which can take decades to replace and has added to community concerns around infill. Trees and gardens make a significant contribution to the ecology, character and amenity of neighbourhoods. As well as improving apartment outlook and privacy, they provide habitat for fauna, shade, stormwater management and microclimate benefits.

In SPP 7.3 Volume 2, Element 3.3 ‘Tree canopy and deep soil areas’ requires that site planning maximises retention of existing trees and protects the viability of adjoining trees. It also requires adequate measures to be taken to improve tree canopy over the long term, and deep soil or other infrastructure to support planting on structures.
As a new design Element being incorporated into the R-Codes, careful attention was given to both the Acceptable Outcomes and Design Guidance to assist stakeholders to ensure a positive outcome.

Does Design WA Stage One specify a minimum screening height for visual privacy?

The design of apartments must balance the need for outlook and daylight access with the need for privacy. Design Guidance 3.5.5 in SPP 7.3 Volume 2 suggests screening devices as a potential alternative solution to satisfy the Element Objectives for Visual Privacy. 

What is design review and why is it important?

Design review is the process of independently evaluating the design quality of a built environment proposal. It has been shown to improve the design quality of built outcomes and reduce project costs via shortened design development stages and expedited Development Application approvals. Design review is undertaken by local government Design Review Panels consisting of built environment professionals experienced in offering design advice to guide the improvement of proposals (they do not redesign proposals). Design review is guided by the 10 Design Principles outlined in SPP 7.0. To learn more above design review, please read the Design Review Guide available under the ‘Additional resources’ section.

Is it mandatory for a local government to establish a Design Review Panel?

No. Design Review Panels are not mandatory but highly recommended. The Design Review Guide was prepared in close collaboration with the Office of the Government Architect (OGA) and provides models in which local governments can set up Design Review Panels to provide expert design advice when considering development proposals. It is anticipated that local governments who already operate a Design Review Panel will review their model for consistency with the Design Review Guide, where appropriate. There are a few local governments where the local planning scheme provides for design review through provisions which may differ to the Design Review Guide. In these circumstances, the local planning scheme provisions will continue to determine the establishment and operation of the Design Review Panel.

Local governments without a Design Review Panel are strongly encouraged to contact the OGA about the merits of establishing their own panel or sharing resources with a similar local government. Appointments to the State Design Review Panel are expected to be announced shortly and they may offer an interim means of design review for significant projects where mutually agreed with a local government until a local panel is operational, or on an “as needed” basis where demand for design review is, and will likely remain, low. 

Please contact the Office of the Government Architect if you are a local government seeking information on establishing a Design Review Panel, via

What proposals should be considered by a Design Review Panel? What proposals should be considered by a Design Review Panel?

The process of design review is typically applied to proposals that are significant in terms of size, use, location and/or community impact. Suggested thresholds for when and where design review should occur are outlined in section 7 of the Design Review Guide and can be adapted to suit local needs in local planning schemes and policies.

How much weight should be given to a Design Review Panel assessment?

Design review panels are advisory and do not have a decision-making function. However, design review panels are comprised of experts from a variety of built environment professions who advise on the design quality of proposals with reference to the Design Principles and supporting State Planning Policies as well as local planning schemes and policies. Decision makers should have due regard to the design review advice and recommendations in their deliberations, however design review is only one of many aspects decision makers need to consider.

Can Councils refuse to accept a development application if it hasn’t been considered by a Design Review Panel?

No. Because Design Review Panels are not mandatory, councils cannot refuse to accept a development application that has not been through a design review process.  

How do I write good Design Review Panel notes?

The Design Review Guide outlines how to run a successful Design Review Panel, including tips on writing meeting notes at section 6.6. Templates are also available for design review reporting and recommendations, design quality evaluation and design review progress (see ‘DR3’). The Word versions of the Design Review templates are available under the ‘Additional resources’ section.

Please contact the Office of the Government Architect for further assistance via or (08) 6551 9483.

Will Design WA stop density?

Housing density and diversity can support critical infrastructure, connect neighbourhoods and help people age in place. Together with Perth and Peel @ 3.5 million, METRONET and planning reform, Design WA provides the platform to accommodate a growing population close to new and existing public transport infrastructure.

Design WA Stage One will guide the development of new, vibrant and diverse communities and revitalise existing neighbourhoods by providing clearly defined standards for the built environment. It aims to put good design at the centre of all developments, from concept stage through to delivery, so that we can accommodate our growing population whilst also meeting community expectations. It will help to address many of the issues that have fed community concern about density including ensuring new apartment developments fit in with their surroundings, retain trees,
are sustainable and consider parking and privacy concerns.

Design WA is essential to ensuring the State’s planning policies respond effectively to contemporary urban growth challenges, particularly shifting the focus on infill development and moving towards higher density living for those who choose/prefer it.

What impact will Design WA Stage One have on apartment prices?

Understanding the potential impacts on affordability (purchase and apartment living costs) was a key consideration during development of Design WA Stage One. Extensive testing demonstrated a net improvement in wellbeing with substantial benefits to improved amenity, living standards, health outcomes and energy savings. For example, better design resulted in less reliance on artificial light and ventilation, therefore reducing living costs. It also showed that developers were already building to higher standards, so the impacts on construction costs were modest (0-4% on 2018 prices). For further information, see the various documents available under the ‘Additional resources’ section. 

What are the next stages of Design WA?

Design WA will bring a new approach to the planning system and beneficial change to the built environment. While Stage One is focussed on Apartments, work continues on the next stages of Design WA:

Precinct Design:

Given the predictions of Perth and Peel @ 3.5 million, effective precinct design is integral to the future of our cities and towns. The Precinct Design policy will apply to areas that require a high-level of design focus due to their complexity, whether this is due to mixed use components, higher levels of density, an activity centre designation or character and/or heritage value. The policy will require a tailored, performance-based approach to precinct design, supported by design review and a high level of community participation. The 10 Principles of Good Design outlined in State Planning Policy 7.0 will apply. The draft Precinct Design policy is anticipated to be reviewed by the Minister for Planning over the coming months, prior to being advertised for public comment later in 2019.

Medium Density:

A scoping paper is currently being prepared on medium density – the so-called ‘Missing Middle’.
The paper is based on information from the development industry, practitioners and local governments as well as conversations with some smaller scale developers and builders who work in this space.  It is anticipated that this project will commence in late 2019, following WAPC endorsement.    

Who can I contact for further information?

For further information about Design WA, please contact the Design WA team at the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage:
(08) 6551 8002

If your query relates to design review, please contact the Office of the Government Architect:
(08) 6551 9483

This document has been produced by the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage.  Any representation, statement, opinion or advice expressed or implied by this document is general in nature and made in good faith, on the basis that the Government, its employees and agents are not liable for any damage or loss whatsoever which may occur as a result of action taken or not taken, as the case may be, in respect of any representation, statement, opinion or advice referred to herein.  Professional advice should be obtained before applying the information contained this document to particular circumstances.

Page last reviewed 17 May 2019
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