The NSW government recently announced further delays to implementation of amendment to the SEPP (Exempt & Complying Development Codes) 2008 (the Codes SEPP) in several Sydney council areas. Introduced to NSW last year and already delayed for 12 months in 50 Council areas, the amendment seeks to enable building of ‘new’ housing types, including ‘terraces’ and ‘manor houses’. The former is well-known to Sydneysiders and residents of many of the older regional cities and towns across NSW and Australia. A ‘manor house’, a two-storey building of three or four dwellings, may also be familiar to many, but not by that name. Many older inner and middle ring suburbs of Sydney and Newcastle for instance, are littered with them – small, two-storey blocks of flats, often mixed with houses and terraces of all shapes and sizes.
Other commentators have recently observed these deferments granted to councils by the NSW Department of Planning Industry and Environment (renamed recently) allow these councils to reconsider where medium density housing is permitted and amend their zoning plans (LEPs) accordingly. Fair enough.
Despite these developments, there has been hue and cry in the media about these housing types changing the character of neighbourhoods. But character, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and these folk seem to be missing the point. The notion of low rise medium density housing appears to have come about so as to allay this concern. Low rise flats, terraces and dual occupancies are much more likely to be ‘in character’ with many neighbourhoods, when compared with the apartments which have profoundly changed parts of Sydney’s skyline, many not within cooee of a railway station. The ‘missing middle’ aims to reintroduce and promote choice – not everyone wants, or can afford, a house or a high rise apartment.
Case Study: The City of Albury readies their DCP for change.
Moving beyond the hype, we at GDS with BuiltConsult architects and project managers, have been fortunate enough to work with the Albury City Council. Fortunate, as the council had the foresight to include an aim in their project brief to review their housing design guidelines (DCP), to appropriately align with and adapt these guidelines, to work with (the then forthcoming) amendments to the Codes SEPP and the attendant Design Guide. Their brief was issued well before the ‘missing middle’ controls were introduced.
Working closely with Council’s planners and in consultation with Councillors, local community and development industry stakeholders, we have drafted guidelines for manor houses and terraces, along with other housing types. Council is well and truly on the front foot, as it’s DCP will be in place by the time developers figure out how to make these new provisions work, noting it took a few years for the Housing Code to be taken-on by the development industry, when the first complying development codes were introduced back in 2008.
In his blog last week, Aaron Gadiel of Mills Oakley (www.millsoakley.com.au) pointed out there are 70 design criteria in the Low Rise Medium Density Design Guide. For terraces, for example, we have been able to reduce this number to around 40, which includes provisions specific to Albury’s planning needs, not addressed in the state-produced design guide. In preparing Council’s new DCP provisions we have been able to write-out, adapt or simplify some of the more complex criteria of the Design Guide.
These initiatives will probably make preparing and assessing a DA for say a row of terraces much easier in Albury than preparing and assessing a complying development certificate under the Codes SEPP and Design Guide elsewhere. Neither will Albury Council’s assessment staff have to wade their way through the SEPP and Design Guide when assessing a DA for low rise medium density housing, as most other councils will have to, until they too amend their DCPs to address these ‘new’ housing forms. And of course, Albury’s local community and industry groups have participated in the journey.
While some local Councils in Sydney are too busy grandstanding and scoring political points on this and related housing issues (and a lack of infrastructure to service the metropolis), it has been refreshing to work with a regional city, who accepted that change was afoot and decided to just get on with their planning to do something about it.
I expect the draft amendment to the Albury DCP, to introduce a new Part 10 – Development in Residential Zones (the new provisions outlined), to be exhibited by Council later this month. I urge readers to keep their eye on Albury Council’s website and take a look. I’d be very pleased if you did and gave me any feedback you may have. And of course, if you need assistance, be you from the private sector, local or state government, I would be happy to have a chat about the guidelines prepared for Albury, your project or any other planning needs.