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the low rise medium density housing code - update

The Low Rise Medium Density Housing code was first introduced back in April 2018 and was produced to address the 'missing middle' of the complying development codes. The State Environmental Planning Policy Housing Codes were introduced as an alternative approval path for building in NSW to the traditional Development Application path through council.


Cera Stribley Architects


The traditional DA path can prove to be a problematic and lengthy process. However, if you need flexibility with respect to planning rules, i.e. you need to break a height plane; then you need to apply for a DA and demonstrate that the non-compliance meets the performance requirements of that condition. Development Applications are notified to neighbours, who are entitled to object to the proposal. Once you have received the Development Approval you will need to then obtain a Construction Certificate before you can start construction.


The NSW Housing Code allows for buildings to be assessed and approved by either council or a private certifier. However, an application must comply with the requirements of the code. There is no scope to 'break the rules'. The process allows for notification to the neighbours, but they are not able to object. Depending on which code you are applying to, the length of time to process an application is significantly shorter than a DA process. They can be as little as 20 days. Once the certificate is issued, you can start construction immediately.


The NSW Housing Code is in multiple parts and includes:

  • General Exempt Development Code

  • General Housing Code (Complying Development)

  • Housing Alterations Code (Complying Development)

  • Rural Housing Code (Complying Development)

  • General Commercial and Industrial Code (Complying Development)

  • Greenfield Housing Code (Complying Development)

  • Low Rise Housing Diversity Code (Complying Development)

The Low Rise Diversity Code is the code which was introduced in 2018 to a storm of controversy. This code allows for the construction of one or two storey dual occupancies, manor houses and terraces under the fast track complying development approval system. In other words, medium density housing would be permissible without council oversight or without the input of neighbours.


The uproar led to the State Government placing the legislation on hold for 12 months so that 50 councils had time to review their zoning within their boundaries. The debate on the legislation raged for months.


However, as of the 1st July 2020, the State Government has enabled the legislation and the code is now active across NSW. Generally, the code is permissible in R1, R2, R3 and RU5 zones where councils already allow it under the Local Environmental Plan. There is still the requirement of complying with the code rules - there is no scope to apply for dispensation.


The code is intended to allow for improved housing affordability through the provision of smaller houses on smaller lots that continue to provide all the amenity that a single dwelling would provide. Natural ventilation, privacy, light, open space and landscaping are all considerations of the code and ultimately lead to quality design outcomes.

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