State Environment Planning Policy (‘SEPP Seniors’) Updates

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19 June 2023

Within the next year, we are due to see the release of a long overdue renewal of the NSW State Environmental Planning Policy concerning Housing for Seniors and People with a Disability. 

First released in March 2004, the State Environmental Planning Policy (Housing for Seniors or People with a Disability) 2004 policy aims to enhance housing for seniors to ensure options are suited for diverse needs, efficient and feature good design. 

Commonly referred to as ‘SEPP Seniors’, this policy and the impending updates are of particular interest to access consultants. In terms of disability access assessment, consultants are most interested in sections of the planning policy contending with:

  • Site access to facilities and/or public transport
  • Site pathways
  • Common area features
  • Parking
  • Dwelling design

MGAC has been involved in this process for some time. Members of our team have been serving as advisors to the NSW Government Department of Planning and Environment.

We’re eager to see these changes come through to help improve the lives of seniors around NSW. Before they did, it’s worth reviewing why the reasons for the delay, and what the changes will mean. 

Previous policy changes to seniors housing 

SEPP Seniors has remained largely unchanged for nearly 18 years. The longevity of the policy was an issue for many reasons, including:

  • The subsequent release of the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards in 2010 
  • Subsequent updates to and new releases of relevant Australian Standards
  • Ambiguity concerning which version of referenced Australian Standards to adopt
  • Reference to outdated or withdrawn Australian Standards
  • Particular requirements seen as outdated given advancements in technology.

In November 2021, SEPP Seniors was repealed and replaced with State Environmental Planning Policy (Housing) 2021. However, in the areas of interest to access consultants, the only obvious changes were the term for a dwelling (e.g., a ‘self-contained dwelling’ is now known as an ‘independent living unit’), and parking requirements.

Example of policy confusion 

To illustrate the existing policy’s shortcomings, it’s worth taking a deeper dive into the requirements for parking as outlined in the original 2004 SEPP Seniors.

In the policy, parking was to comply with AS 2890 (clarified as AS 2890.1, and “that (which) is adopted in the Building Code of Australia”). The 1993 version of that Australian Standard required accessible car bays to have a 3.2m width. It was also a requirement of SEPP Seniors that 5% of car bays must be designed to enable the width to be increased to 3.8m width. 

AS 2890.1-1993 was the referenced standard in the Building Code of Australia (BCA) at the time and remained so until 2011 when it was replaced by AS 2890.6-2009. The 2009 Australian Standard requires accessible car bays to have 2.4m width with an additional “shared area” also measuring 2.4m width (which can be shared with an adjacent accessible car bay). 

To further confuse matters, AS 2890.1-1993 was superseded by AS 2890.1-2004, which does not describe accessible parking, and has never been referenced in the BCA.

If you’ve followed the necessary requirements to this point, over the lifetime of SEPP Seniors, there were two stages where the requirements for accessible parking as “adopted in the Building Code of Australia” were very different. Anyone designing or assessing a SEPP Seniors development since 2011 would face a significant dilemma: 

  • Do you design according to AS 2890.1-1993 because it is specifically referenced in SEPP, thereby ignoring AS 2890.6-2009, even though it is adopted in the BCA?
  • Or, do you design according to AS 2890.6-2009 as adopted in the BCA and ignore the written interpretation in SEPP specifically referencing AS 2890.1-1993?

If you do adopt the second option, how is “increased width of 3.8m” to be achieved? Is it already achieved because the effective width of parking is 4.8m (car space plus shared area)? Or does it need to be achieved through the parking space and that part of the shared area measured to the obstruction of the bollard? Or does the 2.4m parking space on its own need to achieve the extra width?

Unfortunately, the release of State Environmental Planning Policy (Housing) 2021 did not clarify this situation, nor many others. Instead, it added to the confusion by requiring all parking to abide by AS 2890.6-2009, white retaining the requirement for 5% of spaces to be increased to 3.8m width (effectively point 3 above).

Hopes for new updates

Housing supply is a pressing national issue. The changes to the SEPP are intended to make it easier to plan and deliver housing in NSW, especially for our ageing population. 

Amongst other things, the renewed SEPP sets out to clarify design requirements, including passenger lifts, heights of letterboxes, accessible entrances, bathrooms and laundries, and parking. 

Hopefully, these updates will alleviate the existing confusion and provide much-needed clarity for those designers according to the SEPP Seniors.

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