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The not so straightforward residential design codes in Perth

Friday, 29th Jul 2011
Categories: Newsletter

client meeting

Most people are aware of the R-Codes, but not many truly understand what they mean. This lack of understanding has seen some investors buy a parcel of land for development, only to find out later on that it can’t be developed – a potentially costly mistake for some.

The R-Codes or Residential Design Codes are set by the state government (but applied by local government) and were established as a way to control property development throughout WA with regards to use of land. It does play a vital role in our society because it ensures that there is an appropriate choice and distribution of housing types and densities to meet the needs of the community, and that localities are protected and enhanced for the greater good.

To investors and owner-occupiers, they essentially provide a guide regarding the amount of land required to develop multiple dwellings on an individual parcel of land.There are a total of 18 R-Codes allowing for low density, medium density, and high density developments. Typically you will see them stated as ‘R20’, ‘R40’ and ‘R17.5’ or similar.

When the codes were first developed, their naming indicated how many dwellings could be constructed on a single hectare. So in the case of a R20 zoned block, it meant 20 dwellings could be built on a hectare. Using some simple maths, it therefore also indicated how much land would be required per dwelling (also known as the minimum site area). Using the R20 example, 10,000 divided by 20 yields a result of 500 – meaning that you required 500sqm of land per dwelling.

Since then, the R-Codes have been reviewed multiple times and additional restrictions and requirements have been added to each individual zoning code. Local councils can also add to this further through local planning policies for a particular area. This means it is no longer as simple to determine the extent a site can be developed by relying on just the basic R-Code “label” as was done in the past.

Fundamentally your block may have the right size and R-code label, but your plans may not comply with some additional requirements to enable you to develop it. These additional requirements will vary but can cover things like frontages, setbacks, fencing and boundaries, garages and carports, roof pitch, building heights, privacy, open space, and so on. You also need to be considerate of allowing for common areas such as a driveway and the existing placement of services such as sewerage which could make some development difficult and expensive, if not impossible.

The bottom line is don’t rely on just the zoning label and the size of your block to determine its development potential. Instead, check the Certificate of Title and any site plans held with the local council, make an appointment with the local town planner to discuss, and make your offer subject to the ability to develop the land.