Livable Housing Design: a DCP approach

How many local governments in New South Wales have Livable Housing Design Guidelines in their Development Control Plans (DCP)? And what mechanisms do developers use to find this information? With different terms being used for the same thing, how do developers navigate this environment? This is what Masters student Matthew Gee Kwun Chan wanted to find out. 

aerial view of three people at a desk looking at a set of construction drawings

Banks, property developers, planners, building designers, engineers, certifiers, and consumers all have a vested interest in housing. But do they all want a simpler system?

Chan’s literature review is broad ranging covering the complexities of housing regulation both voluntary and mandated. That’s before acknowledging the many stakeholders in the housing supply system.

The recent change to the National Construction Code (NCC) to mandate LHDG “silver” level is discussed in the context of the refusal by New South Wales to adopt this change.

NSW Government claims increased cost as the reason for not adopting the changes. This claim is challenged by economists, activists and consumers. NSW Government responses indicate that they still view the LHDG as “disability housing” not a mainstream issue. Consequently they claim there are sufficient properties available in the market and in social housing to meet current and future demand.

Local government and DCPs

Councils create DCPs to provide detailed information for implementing Environmental Planning Instruments (EPI). Some councils can seek higher accessibility standards beyond the statutory minimum. However, Chan found that councils “fail to adopt LHDG in their DCPs despite making the argument for such in other council documents”. He provides an analysis of 24 selected councils to compare their development and planning documents.

Chan claims that conflicting terminology is not the issue here. Rather, it is the amount of information, or lack thereof, about LHDG in the DCPs and where to find out more. So, the barriers to implementation are not helped when professionals lack understanding of the requirements. This is exacerbated by minor conflicts between DCPs, LHDG and Australian Standards. The regular reference to the Adaptable Housing Standard of 1995 is also unhelpful.

Document analysis reveals that each Council has its own interpretation of the LHDG and how it relates to other instruments. In some cases the references are outdated. Reference to the public domain access standard (AS1428) further complicates matters.

Brightly coloured graphic of little houses clustered together

Out of the 24 LGAs with DCPs enacting LHDG, 2 present the silver level without the hobless shower, and 2 without a stairway handrail.

Chan found that on one hand councils wanted more accessible inclusive environments, including housing, but they also wanted group homes, seniors housing and boarding houses. Some councils only encourage dwellings to LHDG while others require additional features as in the Gold and Platinum levels.

Case study

Four Sydney suburban development sites were studied: Berowra Heights, Darlinghurst, Miranda and Roseville. The analysis is necessarily technical and detailed and shows how many regulatory instruments planners and designer need to heed. The need to have an accredited assessor for some dwellings adds another step in the approval process. There is an argument here for rationalising these instruments, particularly those relating to the design of dwellings.

In the final part of the thesis, Chan challenges the NSW Government’s refusal to adopt the design features in the 2022 NCC. His rationale is that individual councils are trying to solve the problems themselves and refusal to adopt the NCC changes works against them. This is what has brought about differing provisions using different instruments across the system. And it won’t get better without adopting the silver level in the NCC.

The complexity of applying LHDG in DCPs could be solved by adopting the changes to the NCC. This would clear up most of the complexities, create a level playing field and give certainty to developers. 

Conclusions and recommendations

The thesis concludes with many recommendations. Some are related to revision of standards and related instruments. One of the recommendations for councils is to include the LHDG in their DCPs for all housing. The recommendations for the NSW Government appear to be “workarounds” on the basis of not adopting the NCC changes.

The title of the thesis is, To promote or to limit Livable Housing Design Guidelines within Development Control Plans is the question for governments and built environmental professionals. It is available for download in Word, or download as a PDF.

There is also a spreadsheet of all the councils showing those with and without DCPs requiring dwellings to LHDG.

Editor’s comment: Note that the LHA website is administered by Master Builders Australia. Training for Livable Housing Assessors is provided by Access Institute Australia. The LHA board consists of housing industry representatives who are not made public on the LHA website, but are listed with ASIC.

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