BoSP and medium density – a recap

20 May 2024

More than 65 people attended the recent Business of Small Practice (BoSP) event in Fremantle, which focused on recent medium-density housing advocacy and reform. ACA WA Committee member Emily van Eyk shares her observations.

The BoSP was founded in WA by Kate Fitzgerald as a forum to discuss issues pertinent to emerging and small practices – and this event aligned perfectly with that remit. Recent changes to the Residential Design Codes related to medium-density housing will impact small practices. Kate led our government advocacy on this issue and as a follow-up to those efforts, invited a series of key players in the residential housing market to examine how the changes will benefit the profession.

First on stage was Michael McGowan, Executive Director at the Housing Industry Association. He described housing as a destabilised market, with four peaks and troughs in the last 20 years. He warned that the outlook is challenging. Legacy work will come through, but it is slow going. While the average build cost pre-COVID was 320k, now it’s 450k, representing a 40% increase.

While WA currently has the capacity to build 15,000 new homes in a year, we need 25,000 to meet demand. We will only get that through skilled migration and apprenticeships (but they take time). A growth of 10% per year would be ideal. An entry-level house and land package costs $600,000 and the average is $700,000. Michael predicted that the federal initiative of 2.5 million new homes in five years is not going to happen!

Education around each other’s main strengths is key for architects, builders and developers to work more closely together, says Michael. The Housing Industry supports better regulations for architects and this will only increase their value to developers.

  • Michael McGowan, HIA
  • Georgia Young, Hames Sharley

Our second speaker was Georgia Young, Senior Planner at Hames Sharley. Georgia pointed out that infill is the challenge in Perth and the triplex model is a direct result of the R-codes. The new codes are about unlocking housing typologies, so choice becomes desirable. The available choices are typically single-bedroom, ancillary, row houses, and maisonettes. She described the main changes:

  • Private open space coupled with main living area.
  • Outdoor living 20–40m² min 3m dimension.
  • Deep planting zones.
  • Primary living space-oriented E to NW.
  • Minimum storage 3–5m².
  • Reduced minimum parking.
  • Removed site area min for ancillary.
  • Small dwellings will be offered site area concession.
  • As does Silver level accessibility standards.
  • Micro lots give a yield bonus.
  • Site cover does not now include common property.
  • R50 can have 0 setback.
  • Streetscape does not allow only a double garage.
  • Overshadowing and setbacks to consider context – what is this looking onto / affecting?

Next came Kate Fitzgerald, Whispering Smith Director and ACA WA Vice President. She commented that the price increases in housing are not all bad. With higher competition comes greater demand for architects. This can be good for business and great for medium density. The new codes can be seen as a yield grab, but this is a good thing as they come with an ethical catch. You can increase yield if you have more trees, offer a small dwelling, or design to silver accessibility standards.

  • Daniel Paton, Kate Fitzgerald, Matt Delroy Carr and Georgia Young

Finally, we had Matt Delroy Carr (Director, MDC Architects) and Daniel Paton (Director, Developed) closing the event. They observed that the granny flat is a new form of wealth generation, offering rental return or, if fire regulations (and others) are sorted, these dwellings may potentially be titled and sold off.

Matt and Daniel commented that the R30/40 density issues are a product of a previous density push. Is this history repeating itself? Will we find granny flat developments popping up everywhere and taking demand away from the bigger picture – quality apartment living? Time will tell!

Thanks to Kate Fitzgerald for curating this fantastic event. Thanks also to all speakers and attendees for their participation in yet another informative and fun evening.

Emily van Eyk is a Director of Mt Eyk, a lecturer at the University of Western Australia, an ACA WA Committee Member and Chair of the ACA University Working Group.

Photos: Dan McBride