State design policy must balance quality with affordability: Chris Johnson

State design policy must balance quality with affordability: Chris Johnson
State design policy must balance quality with affordability: Chris Johnson


The announcement by the NSW Government of a new integrated design policy must balance well-meaning aspirations towards high quality with the impact on affordability.

The NSW Government’s ‘Better Placed - Integrated design policy’ is an important commitment to making sure clever thinking is involved in how the built environment is designed and steered by government at state and local levels.

As a general policy these aspirations are important but in the hands of tick the box council planners the creativity of quality architects could be overly regulated.

The development industry is keen to produce buildings of design quality but we believe this should involve a variety of approaches to design that reflect the diversity of the NSW community.

The state's design policy and its implementation process must ensure that it does not become focused on a narrow style guide but encourages a variety of design approaches.

Affordability must be a key consideration in a design process but the final Better Placed document has removed the 'cost effective' component that was included in the draft version under principle six.

Good design must focus on cost effectiveness particularly at a time when Sydney's housing is unaffordable for many younger people.

The Better Placed policy stresses the importance of Design Review Panels particularly for apartment projects but this needs to be balanced with the government's recent announcement about mandatory Independent Hearing and Assessment Panels (IHAPs) for all projects between $5 million and $30 million in value. It may be better to ensure that the IHAPs have design skills involved rather than have two panels assessing each project.

The Urban Taskforce is concerned that the NSW Government will be producing ‘detailed design guides, manuals and case studies’ by the end of 2018 which are likely to add further detailed planning assessment criteria that the development industry and its architect consultants will need to comply with.

We all want to produce quality projects that fit the economic parameters that ensure consumers can access new housing and work places but New South Wales needs to get the balance right between quality and affordability.

Chris Johnson is chief executive officer of property development industry group Urban Taskforce and can be contacted here.

NSW Urban Taskforce


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