2021 Update to the Better Apartments Design Standards

16 March 2021


In 2017 the Victorian Government implemented the Better Apartments Design Standards into the Victorian Planning Provisions and all planning schemes.1 These 2017 Design Standards were intended to improve the internal design of apartments and make them more liveable.

The Victorian Government has recently announced that it intends to update these Design Standards to include external building elements, including new guidance on external wall materials and new wind impact standards. In addition, the new guidelines include updates to the communal open space, landscaping, and private open space standards for apartment buildings in Victoria.

The Victorian Government intends that these guidelines will increase the number of attractive, liveable, and quality apartment buildings, as well as increased the green canopy cover in urban areas.

The timing of the intended changes is yet to be finalised.

Proposed changes to apartment standards

The proposed changes to the Better Apartments Design Standards address the following areas:

  • Green space;
  • External materials;
  • Wind impacts;
  • Integration with the street; and
  • Balcony requirements.

Green space

Under the proposed changes green space should now be provided in all new apartment developments. Communal open space should be provided in common areas of buildings of 10 dwellings or more to improve residents’ health and wellbeing and provide urban cooling. The spaces should be accessible, functional and easy to maintain. The current standard for communal open space applies to buildings of 40 dwellings or more.

Canopy trees and landscaping should not be an afterthought in building design and planning but incorporated from the beginning of the process. Canopy trees and landscaping should be integrated to provide summer shade and habitat to outdoor areas, and have enough space so that they can thrive.


  • Small lots could have a couple of canopy trees;
  • Medium lots could have a front garden or roof terrace; and
  • Large lots could have tree-lined laneways.

External materials

Under the proposed changes, enduring external materials are a fundamental requirement for new apartment development. A new standard has been introduced that encourages all apartment developments to consider the quality of the external materials to be used and how they can contribute to the streetscape.

Building facades should be of a high quality, incorporating materials that are durable and making a positive contribution to the existing streetscape, such as brick, glass, steel, concrete and non-combustible cladding. This will ensure buildings add vitality and character to the neighbourhood and easier to maintain over their lifetime.

Wind impacts

Under the proposed changes, a new standard for apartment development of five or more storeys will be introduced to reduce the impact of wind on nearby streets and spaces.

Publicly accessible outdoor space within an apartment development or on surrounding streets should not have unacceptable wind impacts, as they create unpleasant and uncomfortable spaces to walk and congregate and need to remain safe for people to use during gusty winds.

Integration with the street

The proposed changes also include and emphasise the need for high quality design where buildings interact with streets. This will include providing pedestrian access from street frontages, designing vehicle entries to protect pedestrians and cyclists, and concealing services. Street frontages should avoid blank walls or high fences, and car parking entrances and waste collection areas should not be visible from the street. This will ensure a pleasant pedestrian experience that improves walkability and amenity of the public realm.

Balcony requirements

North and south facing balconies can excessively overshadow living rooms and bedrooms in below apartments, compromising energy efficiency in some buildings. The Department for Environment, Land, Water and Planning is monitoring the implementation of the Better Apartments Design Standards and have identified that balcony depths can be reduced on north and south facing balconies to increase daylight access to living and bedrooms, whilst still providing functional space for table and chairs and amenity and ventilation.

The changes include the following:

  • North facing balconies – the depth can be reduced to 1.7m;
  • South facing balconies – the depth can be reduced to 1.2m. Narrower balconies can also be adopted; and
  • East and West facing balconies – can now accommodate deeper balconies and no changes are required.

When will the standards come into effect?

The Victorian Government is releasing a preview of the standards now and will commence the new planning rules later in 2021. The updated standards will not apply to applications lodged before the updated standards come into operation.

How can we help you?

HWL Ebsworth Lawyers acts on behalf of a variety of clients, including planning applicants, responsible authorities and objectors in a range of planning, environment and government matters. Our breadth of experience allows us to provide insightful advice to issues including strategic justification in planning control amendments and permit application matters. If you require a detailed breakdown of the proposed changes, or any other matter, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Further information

A preview of the 2021 Apartment Design Guidelines can be found here:



This article was written by David Vorchheimer, Partner, Alex Fielden, Law Graduate and Julia Townley, Law Graduate.

1. Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning, Victorian Government, ‘Apartment Design Guidelines for Victoria (2021).

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