Urban Growth & Apartment Sizes in Melbourne

by | Jul 31, 2018

Melbourne’s population is set to almost double…

Apartment Design Guidelines are a step in the right direction

Melbourne’s population is set to almost double and reach 8.5 million by 2061; last year alone, it grew by about 2.6 per cent or approximately 120,000 people. This population growth in Melbourne is a reflection of growth in all of Australia’s capital cities as two thirds of us choose to live in one of those cities. It is therefore not surprising that eight out of every ten new migrants settles in one of our capital cities.

When discussing this population growth in cities and the challenges it presents, housing is at the forefront of this discussion. David Chandler, a leading figure in Australia’s building and construction industry, sums up some of the challenges facing the building and construction industry:

“The capabilities needed to design and build small-scaled medium-density housing projects of three to ten dwellings up to three storeys atop below-grade parking have yet to be developed. If medium-density dwellings of the type described here are to make up a third of the housing landscape, a new marketing platform and delivery model will be required.


If governments are seriously minded to harvest the potential of greyfield sites and the urban middle, they will not only need to bring the community along in support of these more modest densification initiatives, they will need to be proactive in making sure the housing industry has the capabilities to deliver them.”

Discussion of housing inevitably leads to the shrinking size of apartments in Melbourne, which in the past has appeared to be following Sydney’s lead. However, this all changed in April 2015 when the NSW Land and Environment Court set a benchmark by rejecting a long-used standard for apartment sizes, known as SEPP65.

This standard was introduced in 2002 and set a minimum of 50 square metres for a one-bedroom apartment; 70 square metres for a two-bedroom apartment and 95 square metres for a three-bedroom unit. However, a judgment by Justice Terence Sheahan ruled that a different section of the planning regulations should be used – a table of measurements known as SEPP66 – which significantly increased the size of apartments.

The new standard sets the size of a one-bedroom unit at 58 square metres; a two-bed unit at 91 square metres and a three-bedroom apartment at 148 square metres. This was a turning point for New South Wales which left Melbourne’s apartment sizes in stark contrast. According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald:

“The average size of one-bedroom flats sold off the plan in Melbourne last year fell to just 44 square metres (from 47 square metres), research from Oliver Hume Real Estate Group shows. Two-bedroom units shrank to 59 square metres from 62 square metres.”

Although this prompted the Victorian Government to introduce and implement the “Better Apartments Design Standards” (BADS) on the 13th of April 2017, the state of Victoria still does not have a requisite for the minimum apartment sizes. The BADS did include the “Apartment Design Guidelines for Victoria” which is designed to assist architects, building designers and planners during the design and assessment process.

However, it still leaves a loophole for developers to insist on a higher return on their investment by building more apartments per square metre, in an attempt to recover the hefty investment demanded by land prices. Despite there being no prescriptive minimum size for apartments, with the publication of these guidelines there was a reasonable expectation within the industry for apartment sizes to increase, particularly at the smaller end of the market.

The requirements of the Functional Layout, Storage and Accessibility were expected to result in more space in apartments to improve issues for occupiers such as storage, accessibility and liveability. The Apartment Design Guidelines are a step in the right direction as they dictate the minimum requirements for bedrooms, living areas and communal spaces, however whether the Victorian government will follow New South Wales’ example and establish clear standards for the size of apartments is yet to be seen.

Written by Elana Ryan

Elana Ryan

Elana Ryan

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