Above: Sadka Lane in the Perth suburb of Shenton Park, close to Shenton College, and Shenton Quarter. Image: Supplied.
  • Experts said WA is currently on the back foot with small homes compared to projects on the east coast.
  • Future proofing is not a matter of catching up faster but recognising the changing needs of consumers.
  • One major challenge was how to foster innovation where there are quicker, more certain ways of building.

Facilitating quality infill development, particularly in the medium-density space, is an integral part of creating a sustainable, more compact future city.

To achieve the best possible outcomes, industry needs a policy framework that supports quality, innovative product that meets the needs of a growing population now and into the future.

Enter the new Medium Density Design Code, the next stage of the State Government’s Design WA suite, with the aim of providing more housing choice and an improved built environment in both infill and greenfield areas.

Drafting of the Medium Density Design Code has been in process for the best part of two years with the Western Australian Planning Commission (WAPC) recently meeting to discuss and finalise the new Code.

At the time of writing, the Code remains in draft form and while there is hope that it has the potential to provide more surety and guidance to facilitate the delivery of medium density housing, there is a view among many industry experts that quality design outcomes will not be guaranteed by the new Code once it is finalised.

Canopy is a development by Stockland in the Perth suburb of Glendalough. Image: Supplied.

One of the biggest challenges for the new Code is to foster innovation and ‘out of the box’ approaches to new medium density development.

New home builders often find it easier to ‘tick the box’ rather than try to innovate.

“The new Code is long overdue and much needed in the medium density space, the DPLH has spent a significant amount of time fine tuning the new Code,” UDIA WA Vice President and CLE Town Planning + Design Managing Director Jane Bennett said.

“One of the challenges we face, even with the current code is the ability of the planning system to facilitate innovation in new home design in infill and Greenfield settings, encouraging options such as smaller, more flexible homes and dual key accommodation options.

“My understanding, from conversations with developers is that often single story, standard product is quicker and more certain to deliver than things that are a little bit outside the box.”

Jane Bennett, UDIA WA Vice President and CLE Town Planning + Design Managing Director

“To encourage innovation then the path to approval and the timeframe needs to be certain.

“Innovation is often hampered by proponents taking the path of least resistance because they know they will secure an approval and the timing is more predictable.

Stretching the design boundaries is uncertain, and it costs more from an approvals perspective.”

Ms Bennett explained that the new Code, like the current R Codes, have two potential approaches, a performance-based approach and an acceptable development approach.

By going down the acceptable development approach, Ms Bennett says you simply move to the next stage of the process relatively quickly and easily, however, if a developer chooses to stretch the acceptable development criteria and be assessed via the performance-based approach, this can be more challenging.

East Village, by DevelopmentWA is located in Fremantle on the corner of Knutsford Street and Montreal Street. Image: Supplied.

“The performance-based approach can be a challenging and time-consuming process that even the large developers are hesitant to do because of the cost of uncertainty,” Ms Bennett said. “We need to have flexibility in the system to allow for variations but we need to encourage people to go down that path and make it a more certain process.”

The problem with providing this certainty in the process, however, is that it relies on individuals administering the Code subjectively.

“I’m not backing away from the fact that it is actually a really hard thing to do, but it is something we should aspire to if we’re talking about how we can future proof medium density housing.”

Jane Bennett, UDIA WA Vice President and CLE Town Planning + Design Managing Director

Fellow UDIA WA Vice-President and General Manager of Land at Parcel Property, Jeremy Cordina, said he was supportive of the proposed amendments provided by the new Code for infill duplexes and triplexes, however, the outcome for Greenfields remains to be seen.

“I understand the intent for Greenfield is to improve the streetscape whilst protecting affordability and innovation through small lot product including two story development, but we will need to see the final outcome of the Code before making final judgement,” he said.

The Sadka Lane development in Shenton Park. Source: Google.

Hatch RobertsDay Partner Ryan Darby agreed with Mr Cordina that the new Code would assist with addressing issues around delivery of quality infill development.

He said the new Code will facilitate more housing diversity, better solar orientation and relationship to indoor areas and improved outdoor living, landscaping standards and tree canopy outcomes, which should be commended, but the implementation of the Code may result in other issues.

“In particular the orientation requirements of the dwelling and location of the primary garden area, may result in issues relating to overshadowing from existing neighbouring development and noise complaints due to outdoor living areas being adjacent to bedrooms of neighbouring properties,” Mr Darby said.

“Notwithstanding the above, I believe the outcomes for housing within an infill context under the new Code will be an improvement on the current housing being delivered.”

One code to rule them all

ABN Group Display and New Product Manager for WA John Care also believes that some of the historical medium-density product delivered in WA has not always been up to scratch, however in a similar vein to Ms Bennett, he was concerned about the lack of innovation the new Code would facilitate.

“One of the problems I see with the new Code is that we could be going too hard and a staggered approach might be a better option,” he said.

“I believe the new Code will potentially use the same brush for multiple developments. For example, you take a lot zoned R40, there are multiple different outcomes you can create on that lot but the Codes are potentially tarnishing all R40 developments with the same brush.”

John Care, ABN Group Display and New Product Manager for WA

“A staggered approach could see different sized lots fulfil different requirements; an 8.5m wide block for example could have one set of rules applied to it as it is meeting affordability outcomes, compared to a 12.5m wide block that serves a different purpose.

“We are still zoning it the same way but it’s a different outcome.

“Unfortunately for me, the Codes are saying R40 is R40 and these are the rules you follow, whereas a staggered approach based on build outcomes could have been created and would produce a more diverse and varied set of housing options.”

Getting the price right

Despite his concerns, Mr Care said there were some really good changes included within the new Code.  However, the multiple changes compounded together, have the potential to deliver a different or less desirable outcome.

He highlighted the issue could be seen most prominently in some of the smaller lots such as a 12.5m by 25m lot which could currently include a 4-bedroom home, however, due to the changes that need to be made as a result of the new Code, the home could be reduced to just a 3-bedroom home.

“This will present issues starting with valuations and there needs to be an education piece with valuers and an understanding of where we currently sit as a market because a client may be happy to proceed, but financially they don’t have the money, and then the valuations don’t stack up so that will compromise the client’s ability to have their dream home,” Mr Care said.

Mr Darby also pointed to the price point of infill developments as a challenge Perth needs to overcome to progress in this space.

He pointed to several quality infill developments that provide for a variety of dwelling types including Perry Lakes, Carine Rise, Knutsford and Subi Centro as some of the better examples, however highlighted that DevelopmentWA is the common denominator with all these projects.

“Their design review process and innovation mandate has resulted in these quality outcomes,” he said. “The challenge is how to deliver similar outcomes in more affordable areas, noting that the aforementioned projects are located in areas that have house prices high above the Perth median.

“Precinct based policy and guidelines is considered to be an appropriate mechanism to control infill development in areas of lower property values.

“The City of Stirling Better Suburbs Strategy was prepared to respond to the poor infill outcomes in their R30, R40 and R60 residential suburbs.  It will be interesting to see how the recommendations of the Strategy are implemented and the final built form outcomes.”

Fit for the future?

While Mr Cordina acknowledged there were some good medium density outcomes in Perth he said the current options were a long way short of comparative options delivered in the Eastern states.

“I was recently in Melbourne and visited some sites that were similar to sites we’re developing here but here we’re having issues with getting approvals from the State authorities because they haven’t seen that sort of development in WA,” he said.

“When you go to Melbourne or Sydney, it is commonplace and the provisions that we are only just implementing here are standard over east, so we need to look to the eastern seaboard for what we’ll be delivering in the next 10 to 20 years.”

The only problem with that, according to Mr Cordina, is that in 10 to 20 years’ time consumer wants and needs will be completely different to what is being sought-after now.

“The biggest thing for me is actually what does the streetscape look like when the car is not so dominant,” Mr Cordina said. “I have a belief that the next revolution will see the greater emergence of electric vehicles and shared electric vehicles.

“I think this emergence will have an equal disruption on our lives to the internet, especially when you start to imagine the street you live on now with no cars, just a single one-way street with a lot more vegetation on it because there’s just not as many cars running up and down, and the car that is going along the street is carrying multiple people from the street to their final destination.

“That is where the next 20 years, possibly longer in Perth, is headed and the days of having a double garage, a house set back to allow for another two cars on the drive will be a thing of the past sooner rather than later.

“The next generation of home buyers will definitely prefer the extra living space over sacrificing potentially up to a third of a block’s total capacity to car provision, something we need to be planning and preparing for today.”


This story was originally published in The Urbanist magazine, an official publication of the Urban Development Institute of Australia (WA). It has been edited for republication by The Property Tribune. 

The Property Tribune thanks the UDIA WA for the opportunity to republish the work, and share thought leadership in relation to urban development and community creation with our readers.

Read the original copy of The Urbanist by heading to UDIA WA’s website under the News tab.

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