Planning is not to blame for poor apartment design outcomes

Planning is not to blame for poor apartment design outcomes
Planning is not to blame for poor apartment design outcomes


“Dull and uninspiring apartment buildings” were the words used by the Burwood mayor, John Faker, in an article run in The Australian Financial Review on Thursday 4th October that blamed planning rules (NSW Apartment Design Guide) for ‘blocking’ better quality design.

On the contrary, the adoption of the design guide has delivered much more attractive and liveable apartments than those built in the 90s. The guide is not responsible for poor construction quality - nor a presumption that maximum allowed residential floor space can be achieved on every apartment site without an appreciation of its setting.

PIA appreciates the mayor’s comment that the design guide had become a box ticking exercise among some developers to get projects across the line quickly while maximising yield. It is the rigid application of the guide in these cases that can cause problems. 

The NSW Government implores consent authorities that ‘apart from the non-discretionary development standards (clause 30 of SEPP 65), the ADG is not intended to be, and should not be applied as, a set of strict development standards’ (Planning Circular June 2017).

While the guide improves consistency and sets a minimum standard, it is not in a position to inspire design excellence. Outstanding design is achieved through great ideas expressed in collaboration among designers, developers and planners who appreciate the opportunities and context of the site.

The Planning Institute of Australia recently ran training on the Apartment Design Guide. Industry leading architect Michael Harrison from Architectus, highlighted that ‘compliance for compliance sake is not a good idea…there should be some flexibility for good design’. He noted that there is room for varying a development standard and the Design Advisory Panels can and should assess the value of innovation.

The Planning Institute of Australia supports the Apartment Design Guide. It reduces contradictions, confusion and conflicts in the assessment of residential apartment buildings and encourages a consistent approach to quality residential apartment design across NSW. It also enables consent authorities to list non-compliance with the Guide, to stop poor development and mandate that qualified architects are required to design apartments.

The Apartment Design Guide is also supported by guidelines on the setting of buildings (Better Placed), so that design of buildings and their precincts are interlinked to result in good places to live and enjoy social activity.

The Planning Institute of Australia agrees that the Guide needs to be applied with flexibility to promote innovation and enable slight non-compliance where the location context calls for it and where there is design merit.  

The Planning Institute of Australia supports the NSW Government being active in promoting better design to ensure that living conditions and amenity improve alongside urban growth.

John Brockhoff is a policy advisor and planner at the Planning Institute of Australia.

Apartments Building Design

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