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Major R-code review underway

Concern about the effectiveness of residential planning codes in dealing with infill development has forced the Ministry of Planning to undertake a review of the current code.

Urban design trends and changing community expectations have meant a review of residential planning or R-codes was needed.

R-codes set out the prescribed number of houses allowed within a certain area according to its designation – R20 or R40 for example. The greater the number, the higher the density allowed.

This gives property owners the ability to calculate potential yields.

Western Australian Planning Commission chairman Simon Holthouse said R-codes were the fundamental building blocks of the urban community.

“They have provided planning certainty for years based largely on housing density,” he said.

Consultants Ken Adam & Associates and Environs Consulting Pty Ltd were employed by the WA Planning Commission to prepare discussion papers on the concerns with the view of updating the R-codes.

“This is the third review of the R-codes, in line with the Commission’s focus on updating policies to reflect urban design trends and changes in community expectations,” Mr Holthouse said.

“The R-codes do not adequately address issues that arise when a two-storey house is built on a subdivided backyard, affecting the privacy of neighbours.”

R-codes were first adopted in 1985.

Town planning schemes adopted since 1985 provide for the zoning and allocation of land require residential development to be in accordance with the R-code.

This resulted in some conflict between local councils and the then State Planning Commission.

In 1991 the R-codes were revised. Since 1995 the code has come under increasing scrutiny because of new planning developments in the building industry.

Issues raised by local governments, Ministry of Planning, private architects and project builders included problems resulting from the way in which the R-codes apply, in particular arising from the additional requirements for local government.

Further, property groups found there was a proliferation of council policies that supplemented or overrode the R-codes as well as a need to expand provisions relating to inner city housing, mixed uses, setbacks and car spaces.

Importantly, both government and industry players agreed the current code was open to interpretation.

The consultants, after considering four options, decided the best approach was one not unlike codes used in the eastern states.

They concluded that while “there is no immediate, compelling demand for either local government or the industry for a comprehensive overhaul of the core provisions of the R-codes,” it was urged that a number of shortcomings in the code be remedied.

While local government, the housing industry and the community are generally satisfied with the codes, they see the need to provide the opportunity to follow a performance-based path to approval that would offer developers greater flexibility.

Comments on the planned changes need to be received by 22 October.

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