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MJA Studio’s Bottle Yard Precinct. Image: Supplied.
  • With population growth, comes the need for sustainable development
  • Strata laws and legislation are complex and require professionals
  • Action is being taken to make it more accessible to more than 300,000 consumers

As Perth’s population grows and both medium- and high-density living are being touted as a solution to the urban sprawl of Perth’s metropolitan area, Australian Apartment Advocacy CEO, Samantha Reece, and Strata Community Association WA President, Catherine Lezer, are advocating for the empowerment of apartment owners and occupiers.

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MJA Studio’s Bottle Yard Precinct. Image: Supplied.

Sam Reece established Apartment Advocacy Australia in 2016 as a representative voice for Australians who choose apartment living.

The body was set up with the primary aims of providing greater protection for apartment owners, improving confidence in apartment quality and promoting a greater range of housing choice.

WAAA Director Samantha Reece
WAAA Director Samantha Reece. Photo – supplied.

The not for profit now advocates on behalf of the more than 175,000 apartment owners and tenants in Western Australia. It provides education and research and lobbies the WA State Government for legislative change and advocates for quality-built developments.

It has published a free education kit for people living in and buying apartments.

The A-to-Z guide helps buyers understand their rights, what they should be looking for during the purchase phase and how their building or asset is actually managed.

The importance of Ms Reece’s work needs to be considered in a broader context. Australia, like most other countries, has seen an inexorable trend towards urbanisation, and Perth is no exception.

Panorama
Panorama. Supplied.

Perth currently has a population of approximately 2.1 million people which is forecast to grow to 2.9 million people by 2031, 3.5 million people by 2050 and 4.9 million people by 20661. To achieve sustainable development, careful attention must be paid to how the urban environment is built and managed.

Perth is at the centre of the Southwest Australia Ecoregion which, having already lost at least 70% of its natural vegetation, is one of only 36 irreplaceable biodiversity hotspots recognised globally by Conservation International2.

Most of Perth’s wildlife is supported by the Swan Coastal Plain’s wetlands, of which 70% to 80% have been filled, drained or cleared since 1829 3.

One of the most significant underlying causes for biodiversity loss is land clearing for urban development and, between 1990 and 2015, Perth saw an increase in its spatial footprint of 45%, with most of this occurring since 20004.

Vic Quarter
The Vic Quarter, Celsius Property Group. Image supplied.

The proliferation of suburban development on the outskirts of the city threatens biodiversity and any urban design or planning to house our growing population needs to recognise this. Accordingly, urban infill and mid- to high-density strata living have important roles in accommodating population growth.

Perth currently has an infill target of 47% by 2031. To meet this target, zoning laws have recently changed in a variety of local government areas to enable higher density development.

However, these changes have not always been met favourably. Many Perth residents have grown up in the suburbs and resist the concept of higher-density living and infill development.

The Bottleyard
The Bottleyard. Supplied.

“On the one hand, I understand that many people don’t want medium or high density living in their backyard. Yet, on the other, it is very clear the current government wants to continue with its plan for higher density living in Perth. Metronet is the centrepiece for that,” said Ms Reece.

“I also understand that many people are seeking residential options beyond the standalone house. Often people don’t see the positives of apartment living until they have tried it. It is about education, both in the context of apartment owners and occupiers and developers.”

If higher density living is to become the way of the future, it needs to be done well. To celebrate good planning and design, this year Apartment Advocacy Australia launched WA’s first dedicated apartment awards.

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Image: Supplied.

“It is important that the designers and developers that are demonstrating excellence are recognised. Until now, the only apartment awards in WA have been focused on low, medium and high rise. There was a need for a dedicated awards program to celebrate diversity and innovation,” said Ms Reece.

Held in May 2021, the inaugural WINconnect Apartment Awards for Excellence recognised 18 projects out of 41 entries for their innovation, quality, commitment and dedication to the apartment sector. Categories included Affordability, Innovation, Heritage, Refurbishment and Ageing in Place.

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Image: Supplied.

One of the award winners was Catherine Lezer, President of the Strata Community Association WA. Like Ms Reece, Ms Lezer acknowledges the importance of good apartment design.

They both believe architects and designers need to be heavily involved at the front-end of these projects to ensure that the spaces being created are liveable and offer an attractive alternative to single dwellings.

public artwork on outside of perth building western australia
Artwork at Springs Apartments. Image: Supplied.

“I have lived in more than ten strata complexes over the years, many of which were very well designed and others which could have benefitted from more foresight at the design stage. It is often very difficult and costly to retrofit solutions to even simple problems that were not being recognised at the outset,” said Ms Lezer.

“For example, I have lived in buildings where there has been no contemplation of a space where strata owners can meet to conduct the required, regular strata meetings. We have had to hire function rooms off-site to hold these meetings which has had a negative impact on attendance.”

Ms Lezer, a strata owner and occupier herself, brought a unique perspective to strata living and aims “to make strata living better for everyone.” She noted that there appears to be a misunderstanding about the role that strata owners play:

“It is the strata owners that are responsible for the management of, and decision making associated with, the building. The custodians of these assets – including high-rise apartment blocks in the city and around Perth’s prominent shorelines, retirement villages and shopping complexes – are volunteers, elected to represent their strata schemes, often with understandably little experience and unsatisfactory access to expert knowledge, information, and support.”

Catherine Lezer, President of the Strata Community Association WA

Strata laws, legislation, by-laws and regulations are complex and require interpretation and explanation by experienced strata or legal professionals.

The Strata Community Association wants the Western Australian Government to take action to support the almost half a million Western Australians living, working or investing in the strata sector and have called on the Government to commit to legislative reform in a number of critical areas, including creating a strata helpline to properly deliver timely and accurate advice to the more than 300,000 consumers.

As Western Australia’s strata community matures and apartment living becomes more desirable, it’s important for people who choose apartments to have a voice – as well as to educate communities in general that apartment living has many benefits.

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For more information on Apartment Advocacy Australia and its WA awards program visit www.aaadvocacy.net.au and www. waaa.net.au. For information on Strata Communities visit www.strata.community.

 Footnotes:

  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2018. “Population Projections, Australia.” https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/population/population-projections-australia/latestrelease

Australian Bureau of Statistics. “National, state and territory population. https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/population/national-state-and-territory-population/latest-release

  1. Gole, Cheryl. 2006. “The Southwest Australia Ecoregion Jewel of the Australian Continent.” Western Australia: Southwest Australia Ecoregion Initiative.

Conservation International. “Biodiversity Hotspots.” https://www.conservation.org/ priorities/biodiversity-hotspots

  1. Allen, Mike, Natasha Hyde, Joshua Smith, Catherine Walker and Luke Pen. 2001. “Water Facts 16: Living Wetlands: An Introduction to Wetlands.” East Perth: Water and Rivers Commission of Western Australia.
  1. MacLachlan, Andrew, Eloise Biggs, Gareth Roberts and Bryan Boruff. 2017. “Urban Growth Dynamics in Perth, Western Australia: Using Applied Remote Sensing for Sustainable Future Planning.” Land 6(1):9 DOI.10.3390/land6010009

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This story was originally published in The Architect magazine, an official publication of the Australian Institute of Architects. It has been edited for republication by The Property Tribune. 

The Property Tribune thanks the Australian Institute of Architects for the opportunity to republish the work, and shine a light on Australian architecture.

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