Design WA takes an important step forward with the final release of the eagerly anticipated SPP 7.0 – Design of the Built Environment and the Residential Design Codes Vol. 2 – Apartment Guidelines.

In front of record breaking UDIA attendance at Crown on Monday 18th February, the Minister for Planning and WAPC Chairman proudly announced the release of the first tranche of Design WA suite of documents, inclusive of the finalised Apartment Guidelines.

A little over two years since the release of the Draft SPP (inclusive of the Draft Apartment Design Policy, Design Review Guide and Design Skills Discussion Paper), the release marks a significant milestone in the State Government’s establishment of an overarching framework to ensure good design is at the centre of all development in Western Australia.

Ultimately the WAPC propose to release six documents that will collectively form Design WA suite:


SPP # Element Existing Framework Anticipated Timeframe
7.0 Design WA – Design of the Built Environment 18th February 2019
Discussion Paper Design Skills N/A Integrated into SPP 7.0
Guidelines Design Review Guide N/A 18th February 2019
7.1 Neighbourhood Design Liveable Neighbourhoods TBA
7.2 Precinct Design N/A TBA
7.3 (Vol. 1) House Design Residential Design Codes (SPP3.1 – Part 5) TBA

(Part 5 – to include Medium Density Provisions)

7.3 (Vol. 2) Apartment Design Residential Design Codes (SPP3.1 – Part 6) 18th February 2019


The Design WA suite is based on the three key fundamentals of applying universal ‘Design Principles’, integrating expert ‘Design Review’ and the use of ‘Design Skills’ (i.e. skilled designers), all working cohesively to improve built form design outcomes.

10 performance-based design principles focussed on the fundamentals of design quality, appropriateness, functionality, sustainability and amenity then form the basis of the design, review and decision-making processes of all documents under this policy framework.

When complete, the Design WA suite will benefit developers by providing greater certainty regarding design quality expectations across the State, and consistency through an integrated design review process. It will benefit local authorities by alleviating the need to prepare local planning policies and design guidelines where universal requirements are already outlined in the Design WA suite of documents.

Where complex development scenarios are proposed, the Design Review Guide provides guidance on the operation and execution of design review panels to achieve consistent, transparent and focussed design outcomes and timeframes.


As a key component of the Design WA suite, the Apartment Design Guidelines provide guidance and controls for the design and consideration of multiple dwellings both in a standalone and mixed-use setting, that replace Part 6 of the current Residential Design Codes. Included is a notable shift from focussing on compliance with ‘Prescriptive Standards’ and metrics measured against quantitative standards, to ‘Performance-Based’ controls applying qualitative performance criteria to evaluate proposals against desired outcomes and planning objectives.

The document establishes design guidance, objectives and acceptable outcomes for each the 4 parts to the document:


Part Title Summary
1 Introduction Establishes the purpose and application of the Policy, inclusive of the 10 overarching design principles.
2 Primary Building Controls Outlines default primary control provisions that collectively define the outer three-dimensional development envelope (or ‘container’), building massing and arrangement, with allowance (and guidance) for Local Governments to make appropriate modifications to suit local context.
3 Siting the development Provides guidance on the design and configuration of apartment development at a site scale.

It includes welcome additions to Part 6 of the existing R-Codes, such as obligations relating to Solar Orientation; Deep Soil Areas and Tree Retention; interface with Public Domain; and the provision of Communal Facilities and Open Space, that will improve the amenity afforded to surrounding development.

4 Designing the Building Outlines Element Objectives, Acceptable Outcomes and Design Guidance for building form, layout, functionality, landscape design, environmental performance and residential amenity.

It is extremely thorough in its recommended approach to design development.  In particular it requires building designers to consider integral elements much earlier in the planning and design process.

Some of the key differences/additions to Part 6 of the current R-Codes include minimum requirements (with a performance-based focus) relating to:

·       solar and daylight access;

·       natural ventilation;

·       minimum ceiling heights;

·       private open space and balconies; and

·       energy efficiencies (sustainability).

Importantly, to achieve compliance, Parts 3 and 4 offer clear objectives and guidance to design practitioners and decision makers who propose alternative and innovative design solutions.

During the subsequent panel discussion, the WAPC Chairman and Government Architect sought to reassure practitioners that the final version does not include radical changes to what was advertised, instead significant effort has been put into improving its clarity, including a comprehensive review of the explanatory diagrams to ensure they were of specific relevance to the sections in which they appear.


The impact of the documents will be felt in many ways. In the first instance, Local Governments face the challenge of either establishing or considering adjustments to its existing Design Review Panels, and their administration in accordance with the now finalised Design Review Guide.

Of potentially greater impost, will be the urgent need to review its numerous local framework documents (e.g. schemes, structure plans, local planning policies, design guidelines and/or local development plans) to reconcile any inconsistencies with the SPP prior to the 24th May 2019 date commencement.

Having attracted significant comment during public advertisement, the final form and inclusions will also be read with great eagerness by developers and private practitioners keen to understand the resultant impact they will have on the development potential and feasibility of various landholdings.

Critical to that outcome is the proposed 3 months ‘phasing in’ of the document, in addition to the training opportunities and explanatory guidance to be provided by the WAPC/DPLH, who are committed to supporting Local Government in embedding the objectives and principles of the Design WA documents within their local planning frameworks.

As with all new policies it will take some time for familiarisation, however the fundamental shift from largely prescriptive and predetermined controls of the R-Codes to a performance-based guidance document is to be applauded. It’s our expectation that over time this will encourage and provide for a greater output of site sensitive, context specific, innovative design outcomes.

Encouragingly, it proposes a welcome transformation for our urban neighbourhoods, in that it places a new focus on the Green Ratio (as opposed to Plot Ratio), where vastly improved landscape, tree canopy and open space requirements significantly improve the amenity of the development’s residents and its surrounding community.


Taylor Burrell Barnett have thoroughly reviewed the Apartment Guidelines and associated Design WA policy suite. If you would like more information or to discuss the potential implications of the changes on one of your projects, please contact our office on 9226 4276.

Otherwise, copies of all the Design WA Suite documents (currently available) can be sourced from the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage website using the following link:

Guest blog submitted by Taylor Burrell Barnett