Item 9.8 – Minimum floor space requirements

This item is in response to a Request for a Report from the previous council meeting. On par with so many other potential initiatives, Glen Eira’s response is to sit on its hands and do bugger all. Everything is always someone else’s problem to solve! Below is what was asked and the underlined sections are what we believe has not been satisfactorily responded to in the officer’s report.

Minimum floor space requirements for dwellings in other jurisdictions including internationally and what benefit or detriment is created by these requirements;

How minimum floor space requirements could be beneficial for Glen Eira in the case that such requirements are adopted by the Victorian state; and

How Glen Eira Council could advocate for state-wide minimum floor space requirements such as through a planning amendment.

The report by the City of Melbourne on its Unit developments and liveability as it may apply to the City of Glen Eira.

The report starts off with a full page of philosophical waffle that works to deflect attention from the questions asked and instead resorts to the usual ruse of how good the current planning system is in that setbacks and height limits do the job of helping to determine the size of apartments and even internal amenity. Setbacks and height limits (if they are applied that is) only determine overall site coverage. They don’t determine how many units the developer can cram into the resulting available space.

More waffle and unsubstantiated opinion then follows – It is likely that if a minimum dwelling size is dictated, it would tend to become the default size and counter productive to dwelling diversity.

Really! Then the City of Melbourne’s research must all be nonsense for them to claim the exact opposite — The predominance of high-cost, one and two bedroom, small and inadaptable apartments is driving the establishment of a homogenous population in regards to household income, age and employment of our residents (City of Melbourne, 2013b). (page 41).

The truth of the matter is that Glen Eira already has a defacto ‘default’ size of one and two bedroom dwellings that contribute nothing to housing diversity. If council was truly concerned about ‘liveability’ and ‘diversity’ then it would publish figures on: how many 1 bedroom apartments have been built in the past 3 years? How many two bedroom apartments have been built in the past 3 years? What is the average size of these apartments? On this point, we note that the Caulfield Village development of 442 units (8 of which are town houses) contains over 200 units of less than 60 square metres in size with quite a few well under 50 square metres! Yet, there was not one single word in any of council’s documentation about this issue and not one word issued from any councillor. Total silence about access to sunlight, access to public open space, and ‘internal amenity’. Size was a taboo subject altogether. When asked at the planning conference, residents were told that these aspects would be ‘investigated’ and put into officer recommendations. We challenge anyone to find a single sentence in the resulting report that focuses on these questions, and therefore ‘social amenity’ and ‘liveability’!

We then find another gem in the officer’s report – It is considered that it is difficult to argue that town planning is best placed and therefore should intervene in dwelling size to a greater extent than it currently does. Why is it ‘difficult’ to argue when countless cities worldwide are doing exactly this? Moreland City Council in fact has introduced a draft Amendment (uploaded here) which attempts to set specific standards for size, environmental design, open space, etc. Strange isn’t it that the officer’s report just happens to overlook this important fact? The reason of course is that council intends to do absolutely nothing that might impinge on development and rate revenue. So without any shame we’re back to the old chestnut of ‘leave it to government’!

And let’s also forget all those essentials of ‘liveability’ that the Melbourne City Council defines quite clearly – The size of an apartment is often fundamental to achieving good levels of amenity. New homes must have enough space for basic daily activities, be able to accommodate standard sized furniture, have storage space for everyday items and be adaptable and flexible in their layout to allow for different lifestyles and users. (page 36)

The most hypocritical statement in this entire report comes with reference to ResCode and the assertion that the ‘standards’ set by this protocol ‘must be met’. We ask residents to consider how many planning applications come before council and do NOT ADHERE to the standards are granted permits. Time and again officer reports are stacked with such comments as no ‘unreasonable impact’ and so on. Council can’t have it both ways. Either the standards should be applied wholeheartedly, or they are not worth the paper they are written on.

We would also like to point out a recent disturbing trend in officer reports on planning applications. Not too long ago the reports would very clearly ennumerate the NUMBERS of 1 bedroom, 2 bedroom and 3 bedroom units proposed. That is now gone and readers are left to decipher from the car parking standards what is what – an impossible task since both one and two bedrooms are required to have the same number of car spaces allotted. Please make up your own minds if such omissions are deliberate or simply an ‘oversight’!

Finally, we have uploaded the two relevant City of Melbourne’s documents (here & here) and urge readers to compare what is stated in these documents as opposed to council’s once again ‘do nothing’ report. And just for the record, readers may also find the following extracts from the Melbourne efforts very enlightening –

The trend in the City of Melbourne, however, is for increasingly small apartments with 40 per cent having less than 50 m2 of floor space, the minimum size for one bedroom apartments in Sydney, Adelaide and London. Consumer research in London (Bartlett K et al, 2002) shows that space is high on the list of priorities of the increasing number of one-person households and that criticism about lack of space is expressed by all groups of home buyers with singles just as vociferous as families. (page 36)

Evidence on attracting and retaining families in inner urban, mixed income communities (Silverman E. et al, 2005) reviewed several London case studies and found that these communities work best when the homes are designed with families in mind, with adequate storage, ample kitchens, family bathrooms and access to outdoor space where possible. (page 36)

Fundamental to a resident’s quality of life is the size and layout of an apartment. No amount of sensitive or innovative design can compensate for apartments that are too small to meet the basic living requirements of the household. (page 48)

And from the discussion paper –

The evidence suggests that letting the market create diversity is unrealistic and that it is impossible to predict or fully anticipate market tendencies, particularly as the housing market is now operating within a global context. (p.51)

In Victoria, apartments are primarily designed to meet the national Building Code of Australia (BCA) standards which is driving a minimum compliance approach. It is understood that the BCA standards were not prepared with consideration for the type of higher density development currently being constructed and are therefore met too easily. The case study analysis concluded that a lack of clear planning policy outcomes together with current BCA requirements is resulting in poor apartment quality in Melbourne. (p.70)