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Low Rise Medium Density Housing Code: A Brief Overview

The State Environmental Planning Policy: Low Rise Medium Density Housing Code has been in the NSW Planning pipeline for a few years. A draft was released in late 2016 with an open design competition run at the end of 2016 to test the draft controls. The Final Code has now come into effect, however, 45 Councils in Sydney have been temporarily deferred from the Code until 31 October 2019 [Details]. We’ve done quite a bit of homework to get to understand the Code and how it might be useful for our clients.

Essentially the Code permits redevelopment of certain sites for Medium Density Housing and approval as Complying Development Consent (CDC) which is a much faster approval process than the traditional DA (Development Application) process. Complying Development can be approved via Private Certifier, avoiding the often protracted and contentious Council DA process which can add considerably to holding costs. The Zoning of the site (R1, R2, R3 etc.) is critical to the permissibility of each of the housing types permitted by the Code. There is also some variation in permissibility of different housing types between Councils due to variation in zoning definitions. But, if lot sizes and zoning fit the criteria, then you have a green light for redevelopment as a CDC.

There are three different redevelopment possibilities offered by the Medium Density Housing Code which are summarised here:

Terrace Houses: Minimum 6 metre wide terrace houses on a site where you could run a row of them across the frontage (think Paddington) but 1.5-metre side setbacks are required for the two end terraces. Minimum starting site size is 600sqm with a frontage of 18 metres (implying you would probably want a wider site to get three on - refer Duplex below for narrower sites)

For Duplexes (one up one down) / Dual Occupancies (side by side or detached), the minimum lot width is 12 metres, and the minimum lot size is 400sqm which in theory means that you can get 2 on a site that has a 12 metre frontage, but the key will be how the cars are accommodated. With a rear lane (with the cars at the rear) or corner site this is readily possible at 12 metres, or with a basement, but with a single frontage, you may need closer to 15 metres to get it to work if parking is located on grade.

For Manor houses (like a big ‘house’ containing up to 4 independent units) the minimum lot width is 15 metres, with a minimum lot size of 600sqm. Manor houses allow you to get 3 to 4 units on a single site. But, to get 4 on you will likely need a corner site or wider site. These are interesting building types that could be a really viable proposition for small-time builder/developers or existing landowners looking to get significant uplift and a quick turnaround (by sidestepping the DA process), but site selection is key and design will be important to achieving an optimal arrangement and maximising return.

Working through the controls and approval is challenging, particularly if you're looking to get good units that address each site's particularities and you’ll want an Architect familiar with the associated compliance requirements of multi-dwelling housing. Permissibility is quite easy to determine by looking up the LEP Zoning for a prospective site and with a clear understanding of your site's dimensions; this can be formally confirmed by obtaining a S149 Certificate, and consulting with a Private Certifier.

It will be interesting to see what housing quality develops from these controls. From our perspective the controls offer a great opportunity to provide a largely forgotten scale of more affordable housing that sits between the choice of outer ring single suburban homes and the construction of larger apartment buildings currently prevailing within the inner city and inner ring suburbs of Sydney.

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