Know your R-Codes in WA before considering subdivision

If you're buying property in Western Australia with the intention of subdividing, it's critical that you're aware of the R-Codes and exactly what you will and won't be able to do with that land prior to signing a contract of sale.

Know your R-Codes in WA before considering subdivision
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If you're buying property in Western Australia with the intention of subdividing, it's critical that you're aware of exactly what you will and won't be able to do with that land prior to signing a contract of sale.

It's important to familiarise yourself with the Residential Design Codes of Western Australia (the R-Codes), which control all forms of residential development in the state through the planning approval process and the building permit process.

The R-Codes are a state planning policy and in the case of a residential subdivision should be considered in conjunction with any relevant local government policies in the area the property is located.

The first step when looking at a property with the idea of subdividing it is to consider the land size and associated residential density allowed in that area. If you're considering purchasing a lot and think it has subdivision potential, it may or may not have, depending on the density allowed for that location.

The R-Codes provide the basis for defining residential density and the density code for certain areas are determined under local planning schemes, which are generally developed by each local authority.

You might be familiar with a block of land being referred to as "R20" or "R40" and so on. These are the density codes for a parcel of land and inform you as to the potential lot yield that's possible for that lot. The R-Codes were originally developed to represent how many dwellings could fit on one hectare of land (10,000 square metres); however the minimum and average land areas for some densities have since been altered. Generally, the lower the R-Code number, the lower the density allowable in that location.

As a quick reference, the general allowances for common zonings in Perth in terms of single or grouped dwelling under the R-Codes is as follows:

R-Code Minimum site area per dwelling m2 Average site area per dwelling m2
R15 580 666
R20 350 450
R25 300 350
R30 260 300
R40 180 220
R60 120 150

Further, multiple dwellings (i.e. apartments) can also potentially be built on land with an R-Code of R40 or greater, with the maximum plot ratio dependent on the R-Code. Generally, the higher the R-Code, the higher the plot ratio and more you can build on a site.

The above is a very general outline and there's more detail provided in the R-Codes document SPP_7-3_Residential_Design_Codes_Vol_1 so it's important to refer to this for more information, including specific requirements pertaining to minimum frontage, open space, minimum setbacks, building heights and so forth.

An important point to note is that the WA Planning Commission (WAPC) will consider applications to vary the minimum site area requirement by up to five per cent. For some lot sizes, this could add another potential dwelling to your site.

A good starting point when considering a lot's subdivision potential is discussing your options with the local council and finding out if there are any variations to the R-Codes in that particular area. While applications go directly through the WAPC, they will refer applications to the local council for advice.

It's also useful to keep abreast of any potential changes to zoning that might be occurring in the local area you're looking at purchasing in. The local planning schemes, which determine an area's R-coding, are developed by each local authority in line with state planning policy and are supposed to be reviewed at least every five years. While it's advisable to be very cautious when making purchasing decisions based on what's only a potential change to densities, it could also mean you're one step ahead of the rest of the market and be able to secure yourself a solid investment.

Reviews of zoning in a number of local government areas in and around the Perth Metro area are currently taking place as the state government pushes its Perth @ 3.5 Million plan. The plan is seeking to increase density in inner- and middle-ring suburbs, particularly those close to activity centres or public transport nodes in order to limit urban sprawl and consolidate Perth's urban footprint.

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