Taylor Burrell Barnett

TBB Reacts: release of the Medium Density Housing Code


TBB Principal

Jarrod Ross

24 Feb 2023

Keep Calm and Carry On - The release of the Medium Density Housing Code

On the 23 February we saw the long-anticipated release of the Medium Density Housing Code (MD Code). In the final policy, the State Government responded to a number of concerns raised by industry stakeholders in the finalisation of the MD Code, including a well-considered staged implementation approach.

You can view our "at a glance" summary of the new policy here.

Over the past three years TBB has been working with our clients, industry stakeholders and the State Government to ensure that the MD Code achieves meaningful improvements to the design and implementation of medium density dwellings in Western Australia, but is cognisant of the impact these changes will have on development costs and housing affordability.

In reviewing the final version our reaction is a fairly simple one – don’t panic.

The changes to the assessment processes are substantial, but the ultimate effect on dwelling designs is fairly modest, and will ultimately lead to an improvement in resident amenity in medium density areas. There will be a requirement to modify local planning frameworks to align with the new MD Codes, but provided the industry moves swiftly, the deferred gazettal and 2-year transitional period should allow this to occur without substantially impacting the progression of housing development.

What’s changing?

The MD Code focuses on single dwellings and grouped dwellings within areas coded R30 and above, and multiple dwellings within areas coded R30-R60, providing fit for purpose guidance on single detached houses, terraces, villas and smaller scale apartment developments. These new design provisions achieve greater sensitivity to specific densities or lot sizes, providing appropriate development opportunities in appropriate locations. The key areas of change from the current R-Codes 2021 include:

  • Minimum requirements for 15% on-site soft landscaping and tree canopy, with incentives for retention of existing trees.
  • Introduction of a consolidated primary garden area (incorporating the previous Outdoor Living Area component) which is proportionally sized based on the site area being proposed. This is one of the more substantive modifications to the current codes. Whilst this primary garden area requirement is larger than the previous outdoor living area requirements, it improves livability for residents and the additional area is offset by more generous site coverage allowances.
  • Setback to site boundaries has been simplified into four easy categories based on building height and no longer dependent on length of side walls and size of window openings.
  • Multiple dwelling development yields for R40 to R60 densities will now be determined by the minimum applicable site area rather than plot ratio.
  • The maximum site cover controls have been increased by 10% for R40 and for R60, providing increased certainty and limiting the requirement to seek variations.

When is this happening?

In response to industry input and feedback, the MD Code will be subject to a staged implementation, with:

  • A six-month deferred gazettal of the Codes until 1 September 2023: This means that any development proposal which is already lodged or to be lodged, and will be determined prior to 1 September 2023 will be assessed under the existing R-Codes. It is important to note however, that
    1. Where a proposal is seeking discretion in accordance with the design principles of the current R-Codes, the MD Codes may be used as a document of due regard where considered relevant. This has the potential to result in confusion and inconsistency in the assessment approach.
    2. The deferred gazettal timeframe is for determination of applications, and not the lodgement or assessment of applications. This means that if an application is to be determined after the 1 September 2023, the MD Codes will be applicable irrespective of when the application was lodged.
  • A two-year Special Transitional Arrangement until 1 September 2025: This is applicable for single houses in areas that are subject to a Structure Plan or Local Development Plan. In these circumstances, the MD Code provides special incremental development provisions aimed at lessening the immediate impact within residential estates which have been designed for certain lot products. The special transitional arrangements will cease on 1 September 2025, providing a 2-year window for proponents to revise planning frameworks and approvals such that they will align with the MD Code after the transition period has concluded.

What’s in (or not in) the final version I need to know about?

Following the release of the draft MD Code in 2021, we are pleased to see a number of the recommended improvements advocated for have been adopted, including:

  • Reduction in the soft landscaping percentage of site area from 20% to 15%, which responds to the typical hardscaping components of all development forms to achieve reasonable pedestrian access and outdoor livability.
  • Improved relationship between the required minimum area of the Primary Garden Area and the proposed site area.  This tiered approach limits the implications that the size of the PGA was having on lot and dwelling dimensions.
  • Greater flexibility for dwelling orientation, with the primary living space required to have a major opening facing east or north-west (or anywhere in between).
  • Reduced parking requirements for a range of dwelling types.
  • Incorporation of provisions for housing on lots less than 100m2 and removing the need for an LDP to facilitate this development.

There were some elements in the draft version of the MD Code that were not taken up, however, including:

  • The draft MD Code (in 2020) proposed two storey boundary walls in R40 areas as permissible, but the final version has been revised to allow only single storey boundary walls with second storeys to be set back 1.5m from side boundaries. This restricts the ability for two storey townhouses or terrace houses to be developed in R40 infill areas unless they pass a design-based assessment, or are subject to a Local Development Plan. Being one of the most ubiquitous density codes in WA and one that is commonly applied to the periphery of activity centres, we believe there is a missed opportunity to allow a more diverse housing option. This will likely mean R40 infill areas continue to deliver triplex and similar styles of development, albeit with improved landscaping and outdoor living settings.
  • The draft MD Code proposed site area bonuses for corner lots and larger development sites. These were removed and site area requirements have stayed the same as the current version of the R-Codes. However, we are pleased to note that small dwelling and accessible dwelling bonuses have remained and offer greater flexibility than the current version of the R-Codes.

What do we do now?

As an industry we need to ensure that we have a fulsome understanding of the MD Codes and their implications on existing local planning frameworks, subdivision approvals and development applications moving forward. There are a broad range of changes which will ultimately be required to planning frameworks and approvals over the coming years, and these processes often take significant time to achieve – so the industry needs to move swiftly in the review and adjustment.

The MD Codes provide opportunities and efficient approval pathways for design innovation in housing and lot design.  This will enable us to achieve high quality medium density outcomes for increased housing choice, improved affordability through diversity of product types and improved lifestyle amenity.

TBB has unparalleled experience in medium density housing design and implementation and has an outstanding track record in the preparation and modification of local planning frameworks to ensure they are fit for purpose in providing the right housing solutions.

If you would like to discuss the implications and opportunities of the medium density codes on your project further, please feel free to contact any of the team members below directly for a chat.

Jarrod Ross

Trent Will

Mark Bancroft

Related Links

Read the media release on the medium density codes here

At a glance infographic: the new planning policy for medium density developments