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  • Writer's pictureSwarup Dutta

Planning Rules Design

I wrote this article for Sourceable. It emphasis the importance of understanding how Town Planning works and how Council's Planning officers rely on planning policy when it comes to making a decision to approve or refuse a Planning Application for two or more houses on a block.

This is the article:

As an architect, you are tempted to individualise your designs. You want to be different and stamp a statement! But will you be allowed that freedom on every residential project?

The short answer is yes, if managed strategically at council.

The design process for medium density development is less self-centred and places the property owners’ interests above the individual’s creativity. The primary goal here is obtaining a planning approval and not a refusal, be it for a dual occupancy, duplex or multi-unit town house development.

If one is requested to design just one house on a block, chances are one may not have to apply to council for their approval.

One can then stretch the design boundaries for a single home (but not a dual occupancy) and create something unique as long as the building surveyor supports the concept. Flat roofs, cantilevers, roof terraces, choice of materials, proportion of windows, and bold individualistic lines are all part of that exciting design mix.

But the moment a project changes for more than one house on a lot – like a dual occupancy project – it falls deep within the grips of the local council’s planning scheme controls, which includes their neighbourhood character policies, the interface with the public realm and lately the new term “backyard character.”

Satisfying the planning standards – ticking the quantitative items – was the acceptable norm to win council support until the Red Dot VCAT decision of Lomaro v Hume CC. There, the VCAT member decided meeting the standards was not necessarily satisfying the objectives of Clause 55 – Rescode. As a result, one now has to tick a few more boxes, which are best left to the professionals.

Read more here.

Above are the host of challenges experienced developers face. Even James Packer had to revise the design, reduce the yield!

The solutions are simpler. Ask your dual occupancy architect or designer to understand planning regulations for a successful design outcome. That goes beyond just checking the zone in Land data or ticking the standards in Clause 55 (Rescode). Read up on what council will expect in terms of shape, location and size of open spaces, landscaping opportunities, parking and turning circles, dispensation for parking on property well served by public transport, neighbourhood character and how the design will be perceived from the street.

Imagine going for a walk along the immediate neighbourhood. Does your design fit into the style of buildings when it comes to type of roof, entrances, fences, proportion of windows, landscaping, front setback treatments to name a few items? Or will be it be bold, individual and create a statement for your dual occupancy/duplex design? A pre-application council meeting with 3D presentations can save a lot of time in the long run. I encourage incorporating some of the architectural elements common on the street to win the planner’s heart.

Having said that, a design I conceived and managed was extremely contemporary with its flat roof, sleek horizontal lines, terraces and large glazed windows in a neighbourhood dominated by 1950s homes with hipped roofs and small windows. It was approved despite objections from neighbours.

The lesson here is simple: one has to work with the planning officer!

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