Design WA FAQs

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

General questions

What is Design WA Stage One?

Design WA Stage One focuses on the overall design quality of the built environment.

The documents are:

Stage One was launched by the Minister for Planning, the Hon Rita Saffioti MLA, on 18 February 2019 and became operational on 24 May 2019 when SPP 7.0 and SPP 7.3 Volume 2 were published in the Government Gazette. 

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 has engaged extensively with local governments and industry in the three months between the policies being launched in February and taking effect in May. Stakeholder briefings will continue to be provided on an as-needed basis.

Keep an eye on the Planning Institute of Australia (WA), Local Government Planners Association 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 Appendices within SPP 7.3 Residential Design Codes Volume 2 – Apartments are available for download from the  Design WA Stage 1 documents and additional resources page as individual Microsoft Word documents.

  • 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 Appendices in the Design Review Guide are also available for download as Microsoft Word documents:

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

The templates have been prepared to enhance consistency across local governments and provide greater certainty to proponents. They may be adapted where this is necessary to suit specific requirements contained in a local planning scheme or Design Review Panel Terms of Reference. 

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

Yes. We have provided case studies to assist stakeholders in understanding the new policies and will continue to expand this resource. The 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 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 many 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. 

Please note that apartment prices are subject to a wide range of market forces. The draft Apartment Design Policy report focuses on 2018 construction costs as a result of SPP 7.3 R-Codes Vol.2.

What are the reasons for SPP 7.3 R-Codes Vol.2 being a performance based policy rather than deemed-to-comply?

Apartments are generally complex proposals and the former deemed-to-comply approach has led to some poor outcomes. Performance-based design principles identify the objectives to be met without prescribing how to achieve them. They allow flexibility for developers and designers to provide innovative solutions to design challenges and better reconcile design requirements against the complexities of site and context. Design review is an essential component of this approach as qualitative assessment is required to determine whether the required performance outcomes have been achieved.

What are the next stages of Design WA?

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 has recently been completed 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.    

Technical questions

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

On 24 May 2019, the former R-Codes (SPP3.1) were renamed State Planning Policy 7.3 Residential Design Codes Volume 1, with all existing content retained except for Part 6.

The new State Planning Policy 7.3 R-Codes Volume 2 replaces the content of Part 6 of SPP 3.1 and focusses 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 (R-Codes Vol. 2). Please note that there are no changes to local planning frameworks that only deal with development under Part 5 of the R Codes.

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, R-Codes Vol. 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 amend or 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 were not expected to have these approved by WAPC before gazettal on 24 May 2019. The Department will work with local government on the process for WAPC to approve local planning frameworks that amend or replace parts of R-Codes Vol. 2 where required. 

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 was not approved before 24 May 2019, local authorities will be required to assess it under SPP7.3 R-Codes Volume 2. This also applies where modifications 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 and the quality of the design is a key consideration in this process, the Design Review Panel Chair may 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 all metropolitan local governments and various Development Assessment Panel members on the Design WA Stage One policies and this will continue where required post-implementation on 24 May 2019. Similar briefings have also been undertaken with most major regional local governments. 

In addition, SPP 7.3 and the Design Review Guide include templates in their appendices. The Word versions of these templates are available under ‘Additional Resources’ on our Design WA Stage 1 documents and additional resources page. The templates have been provided to assist consistency in approach across local governments and provide greater certainty to proponents, and may be tailored where this is required to suit specific scheme or other local requirements. 

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.

Are design statements required for all buildings, such as apartments, commercial, industrial, etc?

No.  A design statement is not a requirement for an application but may be beneficial for many projects particularly for complex proposals. SPP7.0 deals with design statements (see section 6) and outlines the matters to be covered in a design statement should one be submitted. A design statement may be particularly useful where another form of design review is not available. In all cases, the onus is on the proponent to justify / demonstrate that the proposal is meeting the Design Principles in SPP7.0. It is all about achieving better design outcomes.

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. 

How do I measure the average side setbacks set out in Table 2.1?

The intent of this provision is to address long articulated walls alongside boundaries and provide for articulation. The average setback is calculated for the length of the building adjacent to the boundary. It is important to note that the average and minimum side setbacks specified in Table 2.1 are Acceptable Outcomes only and do not guarantee the Element Objectives have been met.

Please refer to 2.4 Side and rear setbacks - Calculating average side setbacks, in the technical guidance section for more information. 

How do I assess the solar and daylight access Acceptable Outcome A 4.1.1?

The intent of element 4.1 Solar and daylight access, is to optimise the number of dwellings that receive winter sunlight to habitable rooms.

Orientation of habitable spaces is one of the critical factors in determining solar access, however it is important to consider other factors such as building separation, balcony depth and ceiling height. Figure 4.1b has been provided to demonstrate if the orientation of the private open space and windows to habitable rooms are capable of achieving 2 hours of direct sunlight between 9am and 3pm on 21 June.

It is expected that proponents should provide clear and accurate information to demonstrate the Element Objectives have been met.

Please refer to 4.1 Solar and daylight access – Demonstrating solar access, in the technical guidance section for more information. 

How do I assess the natural ventilation Acceptable Outcome A 4.2.2(b)?

One of the most efficient ways to ensure dwellings are naturally cross ventilated is by providing dual aspect apartments. This is not always achievable due to specific site conditions, so A2.2.2(b) provides an option for single aspect apartments to meet the Acceptable Outcomes. A4.2.2(b) provides the optimum orientation to achieve this with:

00 - 450 of the prevailing cooling wind = Fair orientation

450 - 900 of the prevailing cooling wind = Optimum orientation

Orientation for natural ventilation should consider location and site context. In some environments direct orientation to the prevailing wind is preferable, however often in coastal locations shelter from the prevailing wind is necessary. Natural ventilation also needs to be balanced against solar access orientation requirements.

Please refer to 4.2 Natural ventilation – Optimal orientation for natural ventilation, in the technical guidance section for more information. 

Design review

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. 

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?

This is a matter for each local government to determine through the Terms of Reference established for their own 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. The panels are comprised of experts appointed 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 give 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.

Precinct Design

How does Precinct Design relate to the Design WA suite of documents?
  • Design WA – Stage One includes State Planning Policy 7.0 Design of the Built Environment, State Planning Policy 7.3 Residential Design Codes Vol. 2 - Apartments and the Design Review Guide.
  • As part of Stage Two – Precinct Design, the Department is also undertaking reviews of State Planning Policy 4.2 Activity Centres for Perth and Peel and State Planning Policy 7.1 Neighbourhood Design (previously Liveable Neighbourhoods).
  • Stages One and Two of Design WA will help us achieve high-quality development in the right locations, such as the new METRONET station precincts.
Will Precinct Design add another layer of assessment to the planning system?
  • No. Precinct plans are a type of structure plan and will replace activity centre plans.  
  • A Precinct Plan will not be required in every situation. It is a tool that can assist with the detailed planning of more complex or strategic locations.  
How does Precinct Design impact the planning system, Regulations and Structure Plan Framework?
  • Once finalised, the Precinct Design policy will require changes to the Planning and Development (LPS) Regulations 2015 to address the issue of updating terminology and criteria for developing precinct plans.
  • The Discussion Paper examines the implications of introducing Precinct Design into the planning system. We encourage stakeholders to provide their feedback during the consultation period.
If local governments have an activity centre plan underway or recently approved, will it comply with the new policy?
  • Yes. All work towards a current activity centre plan and the associated approvals process with that plan will be deemed compliant and planning work should not cease on such plans.
How will Precinct Design support the Perth and Peel @3.5million Frameworks?
  • Precinct Design supports the Frameworks by addressing infill targets, designated station precincts, designated activity centres and urban corridors in existing urban areas within the Perth and Peel regions.
Why another State Planning Policy?
  • Design WA aims to improve the design quality of the built environment.
  • In WA, particularly the Perth and Peel regions, there is a need to plan for higher density infill development to accommodate our growing population, prevent further urban sprawl and revitalise urban areas needing regeneration. 
  • The SPP 7.2 Precinct Design is a high-level planning instrument that will enable these outcomes to be achieved.

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 13 August 2019
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