Australia: Does the draft Queensland Housing Code (QHC) represent a way forward?

IN BRIEF

The Queensland State government commenced work on the Draft Queensland Housing Code (QHC) in 2014 in consultation with members of the planning, building, property, design and local government sectors. The QHC was formally released for public consultation in September 2016. Individuals wishing to make a submission may do so online until 31 March 2017.

The QHC forms part of the greater Queensland Development Code (QDC). Its release represents the State's response to modern development trends and aims to reduce confusion and delays associated with residential development in Queensland. However, its release has garnered mixed responses from local government and the development industry.

THE STATE INTENDS FOR THE QHC TO STANDARDISE RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT IN QUEENSLAND TO PROMOTE EFFICIENT LAND USE AND DEVELOPMENT ASSESSMENT

The purpose of the QHC is to provide a State-wide standardised code for the siting and design of particular residential dwellings. The State intends for the QHC to remove the need for local government planning schemes to incorporate alternative provisions.

The State anticipates that the QHC will streamline the assessment of residential development and facilitate efficient land use, while reducing costs to both consumers and the development industry. By improving the efficiency of development assessment, the State aims to promote innovative designs capable of addressing housing affordability and producing a more diverse built form.

THE QHC PROVIDES A SINGLE STANDARDISED CODE FOR THE SITING AND DESIGN OF THE MAJORITY OF RESIDENTIAL DWELLINGS ACROSS QUEENSLAND AND OPERATES MUCH LIKE A STANDARD PLANNING SCHEME CODE

Parts 1.1-1.3 of the current QDC relevantly provide standardised rules for both the siting and design of Class 1, dual dwellings and associated class 10 buildings across Queensland. The QHC will repeal and replace parts 1.1-1.3 of the QDC upon commencement.

The QHC applies to all infill and greenfield development across Queensland, with the exception of priority development areas. Any applications lodged prior to the QHC's release may still be assessed against the repealed parts 1.1-1.3 and will be governed by the transitional arrangements set out in section 36 and section 37 of the Building Act 1975.

The QHC will work in tandem with the Draft Reconfiguring a Lot Code (QRLC), which is also intended for incorporation into the QDC and is also currently open for public submissions. The QHC functions similarly to standard planning scheme codes, featuring both performance outcomes and acceptable solutions across each of the following elements:

  • height
  • site cover
  • setback encroachments
  • privacy
  • front, side and rear setbacks
  • car parking and driveways
  • private open space
  • fencing
  • additional requirements for built to boundary walls

If an application for a new dwelling house successfully complies with each of the acceptable solutions, it may be directly approved by a building certifier. If housing plans fail to meet the acceptable solutions of the QHC, the application must be referred to the relevant local government as a concurrence agency in accordance with items 19 and 21 in Schedule 7, Table 1 of the Sustainable Planning Regulation 2009.

The State proposes that any inconsistency between the QHC and the relevant local government planning scheme will be addressed and resolved through this concurrence agency arrangement. In effect, local government is burdened with ensuring that the provisions of their respective planning schemes prevail over the QHC.

THE STATE'S FAILURE TO UPDATE PARTS 1.1-1.3 OF THE QDC HAS ALLOWED IT TO BE OUT PACED BY MODERN DEVELOPMENT STANDARDS, GIVING RISE TO A COMPLICATED AND CONFUSING SYSTEM OF ALTERNATIVE STANDARDS

The concept of the "traditional family home" continually evolves to reflect factors, including market demand, modern household structures, budgets and land availability. The change in residential development is made evident by observing the now commonplace occurrence of residential subdivisions featuring lots sizes between 400-450m2. Certain areas are now accommodating lots as small as 150m2.

Despite such change, parts 1.1-1.3 of the QDC were last updated by the State in March 2010. With this in mind, it can be understood why the State has opted to formally acknowledge that the QDC has been allowed to fall out of step with modern development.

A by-product of the QDC's outdated nature is that it has given rise to an ever-increasing number of alternative siting and design rules across Queensland's 77 local governments. Industry groups lobbying for an update to the QDC highlight there are approximately 500-600 unique Plans of Development within South East Queensland alone. The QHC represents the State’s response to such confusion.

WHILE THE QHC AIMS TO PROVIDE A CONSISTENT STANDARD, ITS APPLICATION SUFFERS FROM SEVERAL PRACTICAL DRAWBACKS

The QHC is in substance a code designed to standardise development of residential dwellings. Yet the State promotes it as a blueprint for improving dwelling variety and fostering innovative designs across Queensland. In standardising development, the QHC must also overcome the wide array of variables such as local character and environmental constraints presented by a State the size of Queensland.

The design and siting of dwellings is often unique to particular localities. For example, permitting built to boundary walls is commonplace in Brisbane but permitting the same standard in remote localities such as Boulia and Longreach is a different and likely unacceptable proposition. Accordingly, local governments and certain developers have expressed concern that the QHC is at odds with the local character of certain neighbourhoods.

CONSULTATION DURING THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE QHC CONFIRMED A DIVERGENCE OF SUPPORT BETWEEN THE DEVELOPMENT INDUSTRY AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT

While members of the development industry pushed for the new QHC to be mandatory, several local governments stood in opposition and expressed a desire to retain locally unique siting and design standards. Subsequently, while the QHC applies across Queensland, it remains a voluntary standard that a local government is free to opt out of or vary.

So long as the QHC remains a voluntary standard, local governments may continue to ignore its requirements and enforce their own standards. This begs the question, is the QHC simply another alternative standard that further complicates an already complex regulatory framework? The uptake of the QHC by local government will ultimately answer this question.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Authors
Ian Wright
 
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