David Caddy Chairman of the Western Australian Planning Commission and Rebecca Moore Government Architect. Image: Supplied.
  • 222 submissions received during public consultation period
  • There appears to be strong support for the policy
  • The draft Policy is a significant leap forward from the current R-Codes

The new draft Medium Density Policy is revolutionising the approach to planning under Design WA.

Editor Sandy Anghie and WA State Manager Beata Davey sat down with David Caddy Chairman of the Western Australian Planning Commission and Rebecca Moore Government Architect to talk about the new draft Policy – SPP7.3.

Q. What has been the response from the industry and public to the new draft Policy? And what are the common themes of responses?

DC. We have undertaken extensive consultation on the draft Policy as we fully appreciate its potential to have significant reach. This includes its potential to affect a wide range of stakeholders, including the general community, but also architects and other design professionals, the residential building industry and local governments.

We are reassured that the feedback received from the 222 submissions during the public consultation period has indicated good overall support for policy change to improve the design quality and choice of medium-density housing.

The response from the architectural profession has been particularly encouraging and strong. Unsurprisingly, there have been some divergent views between stakeholders on certain elements of the draft Policy – and these will be worked through and resolved where possible as we progress towards finalising the document.

RM. Yes, the responses have been positive – again noting some obvious differences between community sentiment, design professionals and developer priorities.

On the whole, there appears to be strong support for the intent of the draft Policy which is to enhance diversity of dwelling types and to improve the design quality of infill – in terms of context responsiveness and performance – and importantly, to encourage the retention of existing trees and to improve the quality of outdoor areas and their relationship to our living spaces All of these elements are about the quality of our living environments which is something much more sharply in focus as a result of our COVID-19 lockdown experiences.

Q. In milestone presentations and workshops, the Department of Planning has provided some cost statistics associated with the individual household cost of “business-as-usual” planning approach to medium density of $1,460 per dwelling per year, which incorporates costs associated with heat island effect, reduced tree canopies, embodied energy, social isolation, and stormwater. Has there been financial modelling on cost implications and comparison of implementation of new draft Policy? How is it expected to stack up?
DC. We commissioned this research at the beginning of the Medium Density project to help define the current problem. The cost of $1,460 was based on a typical triplex development and was useful in quantifying and illustrating the cost to the wider community without policy changes. Once submissions have been reviewed and analysed, a further piece of work will be commissioned to financially model the implications of any modifications to the new draft Policy proposed in response to stakeholder feedback.

We have been undertaking significant design and feasibility testing so that we have a good understanding of how policy settings impact on design outcomes, build costs and project feasibility compared to development under the current policy. The cost is anticipated to be fully recovered.

RM. In a broader sense, it is expected that the draft policy will improve the amenity of both occupants and the broader locality in a number of ways. The intent is to address urban heat island temperature increases resulting from loss of mature trees and loss of green space, by encouraging the retention of existing trees and requiring developments to have well-designed private open space and improving streetscapes. Public health benefits should flow from the provision of greener spaces in our suburbs and better designed streetscapes – which can encourage increased social interactions and inclusion.

Q. The Australian Institute of Architects believes planning policy needs to work together with the National Construction Code (NCC) to strive for greater energy and resource efficiency in the building sector. Does the draft policy address further opportunities to reduce the carbon footprint? (ie reduce embodied energy, reduce energy demand, increase energy efficiency)

DC. We are very mindful that the policy needs to work in concert with the NCC as it progresses towards more sustainable energy-efficient buildings. Our draft policy is a significant leap forward from the current R-Codes in its focus on site responsive design and building orientation to respond to solar passive design. This includes attention to well-designed garden areas, solar access, shading and natural ventilation.

RM. In order to support greater energy and resource efficiency in the building sector, it is important to address the entire life cycle of planning, design, construction, operation and demolition of buildings. Architects have a lot to offer in terms of improving the energy demand arising from the occupation of the buildings they design, but they also have the ability to assess the scope for the adaptive reuse of buildings which avoids wastage of the embodied energy in existing structures.

Current Pritzker Prize winners Lacaton and Vassal are experts at this and have a policy of never demolishing an existing building. There are huge opportunities for the architectural profession moving forward and leading our urban responses to climate change.

Q. Are there clauses within the draft policy that differ from the ones presented during Reference Group and Advisory Group reviews and testing stages?

DC. By its very nature, the process of engagement, testing and drafting has been iterative. Going forward, our intention is to continue with industry involvement and undertake further testing to refine policy provisions including modifications that are proposed in response to stakeholder feedback.

RM. The draft policy is still evolving – modifying policy settings in response to design testing and stakeholder feedback is a sign of robust and rigorous policy development.

Q. Will the Department / WAPC articulate the processes for Local Planning Frameworks to ensure these processes are not abused by local authorities in creating policies that may be contradictory with the intent of the draft policy?

DC. We recognise that it is not practical or reasonable to expect the new Medium Density Policy to apply across the entire state without the need for a degree of variation to address local circumstances, such as climate, neighbourhood character and community aspirations. This is particularly important for regional areas. The draft policy endeavours to provide much greater clarity on what changes to the policy can be made with or without WAPC oversight. But equally, we need to avoid a situation where there is unnecessary or unwarranted variation between local government jurisdictions, as this creates a planning system that is cumbersome and difficult to navigate.

Q. Many of the images of exemplar projects used throughout the draft policy, guidelines and supplementary documents are of architecturally designed dwellings. Is there a plan to incentivise the use of architects within planning policies? For example, by allowing for an accelerated approval / DRP process?

RM. There is no plan to incentivise the use of architects; however, it is likely that the enhanced design focus of the draft policy will mean that developers will see merit in engaging architects/skilled designers to undertake medium-density infill work.

Q. Is there confidence that the building design and project home industry can equally achieve “good design” and innovate in the medium density housing sector?

RM. The deemed to comply structure of the draft policy means that all projects are intended to meet a basic good design threshold to obtain planning approval – while allowing scope for good designers to innovate. The project home industry has a history of innovation in medium-density housing – examples include Overman and Corser homes and Krantz and Sheldon.

DC. The objective of the policy change is to raise the bar of design across the industry broadly. We expect this change will provide some great opportunities for architects and building designers. Exemplar projects are being delivered by architects, building designers and the project home industry and this is very encouraging.

By elevating the base standards, our hope is that good design will become accessible to all West Australians.


Written by Sandy Anghie and Beata Davey.

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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