Contrary to popular opinion, an equitable response to side of rear boundaries with neighbouring properties is not always a 4.5 metre setback from the common boundary with the neighbouring property.
Although this may be a legitimate design solution, in some circumstances – it is not a “catch all” response.
All developments need to consider their impact on surrounding neighbours and community.
Even if local planning provisions do not call for or provide any explicit focus on equitable development, a basic urban design principle is the need to ensure that developments avoid unreasonable impacts on neighbouring developments, as required by the Planning Policy Framework.
At kinetica, we believe that this extends to equitable development.
Planning and responsible authorities need to ensure that endorsing one scheme does not lead to an unacceptable imposition on the development potential of a neighbouring property. These concerns should be paramount in activity centres to avoid one development being perceived as receiving preferential treatment.
With the increased construction of taller towers in the past decade, the notion of equitable development has fortunately been given greater attention by planning and responsible authorities, private consultants and VCAT.
Equitable means equal opportunity.
That is, ensuring neighbouring properties are provided with the fair opportunities for development as that of the subject site. It does not necessarily mean the same design solution.
At kinetica, we recognise that every site is different, and not every site can accommodate the same form, scale, and intensity.
This means responding to equitable development is not always a 4.5m setback from the side and rear boundaries.
The “4.5m setback” is derived from an equal sharing of the 9m horizontal distance specified in Clause 55.04-6 (two habitable room windows 9m apart do not result in unreasonable overlooking and so are not required to be screened). As such, if two facing habitable room windows are setback 4.5m from the common boundary, the resultant separation of 9m precludes the need to screen.
Over time, this “9m separation” appears to have become the default position, but there are many instances where setbacks less than (or even more than) 4.5m are needed in response to several planning concerns such visual impact and appropriate tower separation.
We at kinetica observe that many planning authorities are introducing planning provisions to ensure that new development avoids unreasonable impact on the development potential of neighbouring properties. It is also notable that equitable development considerations can also be found within the Apartment Design Guidelines (DELWP, 2018) and the Urban Design Guidelines for Victoria (DELWP, 2018), however, these provisions can be generic and provide inadequate assistance to designers.
Large infill sites have greater flexibility to accommodate growth and to contribute towards equitable development, compared with an abutting site that is smaller or narrower.
Consider the following scenarios:
In this scenario, the properties in this street have a consistent width, and are wide enough to ensure a feasible floor plate after providing for equitable setbacks. Assuming they all share the same zoning and growth aspirations, buildings may be simply set back 4.5m from each common boundary without unreasonably impacting an efficient development of the neighbouring property/ies.
Now consider another scenario:
The properties in this street do not have a consistent width, however, they share the same growth aspirations. To impose an equal setback on these properties fails to appreciate that they are different. Importantly, Site 2 is approximately one-quarter the width of Site 1. A generic equitable development rule is not appropriate when the site dimensions differ so drastically. Assuming a minimum 9m building separation is sought, an equitable outcome would be that Site 1 shares a greater proportion of the 9m separation to avoid imposing an unreasonable constraint on Site 2. This might mean that Site 1 is setback 6.75m from the common boundary, whilst Site 2 is setback 2.25m.
So, when faced with the question of equitable development, consider the following parameters of the neighbouring property/ies:
- What is their size and orientation, relative to the subject site?
- What is the interface of the neighbouring site? Is it a light court? It is habitable window? A balcony?
- Does it share similar policy expectations to that of the subject site?
- Is it made up of many different landowners? Or is it under one common ownership?
- What are the built form expectations for the neighbouring site in the planning scheme?
- What would a likely layout of a potential development scheme be on the neighbouring land?
While we observe that there are some existing provisions through the Victorian Planning Provisions – these tend to be generic and provide inadequate assistance to designer, particularly for areas that are lacking with specific design overlays.
Equitable development does not mean equal and we need to avoid being too simplistic – a response that is acceptable on one site does not automatically deem it acceptable for another.
Disclaimer: note that the above diagrams are general in nature and do not account for appropriateness/adequacy of outlooks and access to sunlight.
 Clause 15.01-2S