From the National President

National President, Ken Maher. Photo by Brett Boardman
National President, Ken Maher. Photo by Brett Boardman.

18 Jul

Action on the state of Australian cities is long overdue. Despite this, there was little visibility of this issue throughout the extended election campaign. Now that the Coalition has been re-elected, the Institute is calling on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his government to strengthen their focus on raising the productivity and resilience of our cities as outlined in their Smart Cities Plan released earlier this year. This high-level plan is worthy in intent but short on detailed programs. Now is the time to give clear definition to these and the timing of their delivery.

We need long term strategies, policies and processes in place to create a sustainable built environment that can turn our cities into globally competitive, productive, sustainable and socially inclusive places to live and work. The Federal Government can establish incentives, programs, and funding strategies to guide the delivery of planning frameworks and infrastructure through our states, territories and local governments to achieve measurable improvements to our cities.

The Federal Government must also focus on ensuring excellence in urban design, public spaces and architecture, for without this the plans fall short. Strategies and policies will only be effective if they ensure what is delivered in physical form is enduring and of the highest design quality.

As highlighted in the Institute’s election campaign, Designing Australia’s Future, we are calling on the Federal Government to take a greater leadership role in the future of our cities. We will be pushing for the cities and infrastructure portfolios to be merged, and funding and delivery of infrastructure being subject to design and planning

Affordable housing and apartment standards are firmly on our agenda and we have long advocated for the implementation of apartment design guidelines and similar planning legislation in all jurisdictions. In Victoria, the Minister for Planning, the Hon Richard Wynne, will soon be releasing their official standards following a public engagement survey and the implementation of interim planning controls. I recently met with the Minister to express strong support of his proposals.

The Institute believes that Victoria should not only have design guidelines but, should also introduce design review panels to consider proposals that don’t adhere to the guidelines including for smaller apartments. Small apartments need high levels of amenity and high-quality design to avoid contributing to sub-standard housing stock. Many recent apartment developments in Melbourne have lacked amenity and design quality. If this is to change there must be more effective controls supporting better design and also ongoing checking to ensure the approved design intent is being maintained through project procurement and construction. There must also be a requirement to use registered architects to design multi-storey apartment buildings, as has been the case in NSW for more than a decade, to ensure quality and provide consumer protection.

Kerry and Lindsay Clare’s 2014 review of the NSW system confirmed that the legislative package has resulted in improved living standards in NSW and it has received broad support from the industry and local authorities.

We look forward to working closely with the OVGA in Victoria, the Department of Planning and key industry and community stakeholders to develop and deliver a sound policy and regulatory framework that provides performance-based design quality guidelines. This current initiative in Victoria, which builds on the successes in NSW, will provide a great benchmark for other states and territories to review their own systems and create new frameworks aimed at encouraging innovative design solutions that lead to improved affordability, housing diversity, and improved living standards for all. As architects who care about the value of design, let’s do all we can to make this happen.