As part of his Better Apartments project, Victoria’s Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, is currently preparing draft rules to realise his promise to increase the interior quality of small apartments in new developments.

Given his previous public comments about “dogboxes”, I expect the minister is currently working up minimum standards for attributes like floor area, balcony area, ceiling height and access to daylight and sunlight.

As I’ve noted before, these are issues that seem to mainly worry the sort of people who don’t, or won’t, live in small apartments themselves but know what’s best for those who will.

Tenants at the bottom end of the market who choose to live in “dogboxes” evidently value the ability to trade a lower rent for the opportunity to live in a highly sought-after location like the CBD.

Politicians should focus on what goes on outside apartments and acknowledge consenting adults know what they’re doing.

Prospective tenants have the smarts to decide for themselves if a 45-square-metre apartment has enough interior space, interior light and interior storage to meet their needs; they can determine if it’s fair value at the offered rent/price.

What they don’t need is for politicians to set minimum standards (e.g. 50 square metres of internal floor area as in NSW) that raise rents and consequently reduce their housing and locational choices.

In Kawasaki City Japan, there’s a proposal to set a minimum apartment size of 25 square metres. In New York, there’s pressure to lower the minimum size of new apartments to less than 400 square feet (37 square metres).

Where they really need his help is with matters that are beyond their control, can’t be foreseen at the time, or are highly technical. That’s things like noise transmission between apartments, noise from outside sources, and future developments on adjacent sites that might lower their amenity.

Our pollies should take note of the issues raised by new resident lobby group We Live Here, which seeks to represent the interests of residents of Victoria’s 250,000-odd apartments, units and flats.

According to local paper CBD News, the group’s inaugural meeting was held in December in the CBD. Guest speakers included Melbourne MLA Ellen Sandell, ALP federal candidate Sophie Ismail, City of Melbourne councillor Rohan Leppert, Opposition planning spokesman David Davis, and academic Professor Michael Buxton.

Here are the issues CBD News reports were raised by We Live Here at the first meeting:

  • Short-stay accommodation, e.g. Airbnb. Sandell is quoted in CBD News as describing the short-stay issue as a “sleeping giant”;
  • Safety of building materials used in the construction of apartment buildings;
  • Privacy and amenity issues; and
  • “The practice of developers setting up owners’ corporations and subsequently awarding lucrative, long-term contracts to affiliates.”

I hope all planning ministers are giving more attention to these sorts of “external” issues than they are to the bedrooms of apartment dwellers.

Peter Fray

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