Will apartments be better under the new Better Apartments Draft Design Standards?

August, 2016

By David Passarella and Jenelle Cramer 

The long awaited Better Apartments Draft Design Standards (Draft Standards) and explanatory Better Apartments Overview were released by DELWP on Sunday 14 August 2016. As expected, they maintained a strong focus on internal amenity requirements. Here are a few of the headliners.

No minimum apartment size

Contrary to expectations, the Draft Standards do not prescribe mandatory minimum apartment sizes, unlike its NSW counterpart. In our view, this is a positive outcome for the industry, and reflects that a well designed apartment irrespective of area can provide a superior outcome to a poorly designed larger apartment. Such decisions will and should continue to be merit-based and assessed on a case by case basis.


There is a new requirement for all bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, kitchen areas and studies to have a window in an external wall that is visible from any point in the room. Borrowed light or access to light from an adjacent room will not meet the standard, which is generally consistent with the position that VCAT has recently taken in planning appeal cases.

Building setbacks

Proposed to apply to buildings of 5 storeys or more, the Draft Standards prescribe building to boundary and building to building setback standards as set out below. Habitable room windows and balconies should also seek to comply with these setbacks.


These new setbacks will impact development yield, especially in narrow development sites, which may make development above certain heights unviable.

Buildings of 4 storeys or less (with two or more dwellings on a lot) will continue to be assessed against Clause 55.04-1 and Standard B17.

Room depth

For south facing, single aspect dwellings, a room depth to ceiling height ratio of 2:1 should not be exceeded. For all other dwellings, the room depth to ceiling height ratio should not exceed 2.5:1. There is some inbuilt flexibility, with a permissible room depth increase to 8 metres for open plan habitable rooms incorporating living, dining and kitchen areas, provided particular design requirements are met. These include, for example, locating the kitchen area furthest from the window, and a minimum ceiling height of 2.7 metres.

Room depth has been a topical consideration in more recent times. VCAT planning decisions over the last few years have focussed heavily on this key internal amenity issue and these Draft Standards set some parameters around how developers may address these concerns.

Private open space

Dwellings are required to have between 10 square metres and 25 square metres of private open space, depending on whether they are located at ground floor, at podium (or similar base) level or at roof level, or if they have a finished floor height of less than 35 metres.

The exception appears to be dwellings with a finished floor height above 35 metres (excluding dwellings with rooftop access or podium (or similar base) access), which do not appear to be covered by the Draft Standard.

What next?

Industry and stakeholder feedback on the Draft Standards can be provided on the DELWP website until 5pm on 19 September 2016. Once finalised, these Standards will replace the Guidelines for Higher Density Residential Development. Transitional provisions will be introduced to ensure that existing planning permit applications lodged before the commencement of the new Standards will be assessed under the planning scheme provisions that existed at the time of lodgement. As the new Standards are expected to be introduced in December 2016, developers with upcoming projects should consider whether they are more likely to achieve their desired outcomes under the existing regime or the new one, and time their permit application lodgement accordingly.

Contact Mills Oakley


David Passarella | Partner 
T: +61 3 8568 9527
E: dpassarella@millsoakley.com.au

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