Minimum apartment sizes in NSW may now have to be up to 50 per cent larger following a ruling from the NSW Land and Environment Court.

Apartment minimums have been set in NSW since 2002 as part of the State Environmental Planning Policy 65 design guidelines, with developers and planners often following “rule of thumb” guidelines that state a minimum of 50 square metres for one-bedroom apartments, 70 sq m for a two-bedroom apartment and 95 sq m for three-bedroom apartments.

Botany City Council has its own development control plan, which lists 75 sq m as the minimum for one-bedroom dwellings. When Botany Developments had this overruled regarding a six storey 158-apartment development – referring to SEPP 65 in its argument – the council appealed the decision.

Justice Terry Sheahan of the Land and Environment Court found that a separate, more complex table in the Residential Flat Development Code was the key metric, not the rule of thumb. This table finds sizes up to 50 per cent larger are the acceptable minimums. For example, it states that 58 sq m is the minimum for dual-aspect one-bedroom apartments and 73.4 sq m is the minimum for one-bedroom single-aspect apartments.

Consultancy Urbis said the ruling could have consequences for unit mix and apartment types; project feasibility; general layout and design of apartment development, and general housing affordability.

Urban Taskforce chief executive Chris Johnson said the government had previously shown support for the rule of thumb guidelines in its draft Apartment Design Guide released last year, and urgently needed to clarify its position.

“While the court may well be deciding on a technical interpretation in the current Residential Flat Design Code it is clear that the government supports the rule of thumb in the proposed replacement document,” Mr Johnson said.

“It is now important that the new Minister for Planning clarifies that the ‘rules of thumb’ standards for apartment size are to be those that approval bodies are to go by.”

He said councils that mandated larger minimum sizes in development control plans were increasing apartment costs by up to $200,000 in some areas.

Victoria has been looking to NSW’s SEPP 65 for inspiration regarding minimum apartment sizes, currently set at 37 sq m for one-bedroom apartments, following a raft of CBD towers approved by the former Coalition government that have been criticised for poor design standards, with the Office of the Victorian Government Architect releasing guidelines recommending minimums of 50 sq m for one-bedroom apartments. Forty per cent of the one bedroom apartments in the City of Melbourne are currently less than that.

Victoria’s new premier Daniel Andrews has stated the Labor government will introduce “public guidelines ensuring that developments enhance rather than trash Melbourne’s liveability and planning applications, permits, plans and reasons for decision will be publicly available”.

Aurecon’s Digby Hall wrote last year, however, that “micro-apartments” served a valuable need, and design rather than minimum sizes needed to be enforced.

“Instead of lifting the minimum sizes for apartment living we need to be lifting their quality and amenity through better design control and more stringent approvals.”

One reply on “Too small? Court ruling may see NSW minimum apartment size balloon”

  1. Forgotten in all of this is the industry commitment to the National Dialogue on Universal Housing Design and the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. If all new housing is to be at least visitable (that is, a person with disability can get into the dwelling, use the toilet and have a meal with a friend or family) then anything under 55 sq m would make that impossible. The Department of Housing Design Guidelines should be the industry standard as these do include the basic elements of accessibility for everyone – including parents with prams. Micro apartments might be OK for a student who will move on, but it is no place to live out one’s retirement years when you spend more than 85% of your time at home.

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