Four implications of planning policy change for aged care developers

A new standard for assessing residential aged care facilities in Victoria acknowledges that they have “inherently different built forms” and opens new opportunities for aged care providers, architects and developers.

Amendment VC152, clause 53.17 of the Victoria Planning Provisions (VPP) became active in October 2018. However, it was only as recently as March 2019 that the first schemes were tested against the new provision at VCAT. Both designs were developed by VIA Architects, in the Melbourne suburbs of Lysterfield and Preston. 

Here, we share the implications of the legislation and VCAT outcomes. 



1. The planning assessment and approvals process is clearer

A standalone aged care facility at Lysterfield was the first of VIA’s designs to be tested at VCAT. It is now a ‘Red Dot Decision’. VCAT took three and a half months after the hearing to grant planning permission. By contrast, VIA’s second scheme, for a residential aged care facility and retirement village in Preston, was approved just three weeks after the May 2019 hearing. The new legislation was designed to clarify the planning process for residential aged care developments, and our experience in the case of Preston appears to indicate this is the case.

Seniors Living Community
VIA design for Preston seniors living community



2. Residential aged care has been redefined

VCAT noted in the Lysterfield case that “our starting point must be to accept that the built form impacts of residential aged care facilities can be different from what is typically acceptable.” Aged care designs will bring a different character to residential neighbourhoods, given that clause 53.17 includes specific requirements applying to building height, site coverage, setbacks, internal amenity and external amenity that override mandatory and discretionary requirements of applicable zones and overlays.

The Lysterfield site has residential neighbours on the northern, eastern and western boundaries. The building design proposed by VIA is long and level with two and three storeys in response to the slope of the site. VCAT agreed with council that a residential aged care facility in this location should be more constrained than other locations in metropolitan Melbourne, but conceded that the design was reasonable given that the height was not excessive, and the bulk was softened by generous landscaping.

Seniors Living Aged Care
VIA design for Lysterfield





3. Aged care providers get an even playing field with developers

Given Australia’s ageing population, and the drive to enable people to ‘age-in-place’, land that may previously have not been feasible for development as an aged care site, could now be ideal – levelling the playing field for aged care providers. The State is making a concerted effort to encourage more residential aged care in areas where demand is emerging from an ageing population. In the case of Lysterfield, VCAT noted that “if we find that the site’s location is appropriate, then we must apply the requirements of clause 53.17 to the development’s size and appearance despite its inconsistency with other planning policy objectives.” With an undersupply in the catchment area of 369 residential aged care places, almost 300 places in the broader catchment area, and a projected 3,000 residents soon to reach the age of 80, the location was considered ideal.

In a similar vein, VCAT noted that VIA’s second design – a residential aged care facility and retirement village in Preston – was a near ideal location for aged care because the new policy recognises that “residential aged care facilities are an appropriate use in a residential area.” The scheme was not subject to most of Darebin Council’s Design and Development Overlay (DDO19), which seeks to apply built form controls to ‘multi-dwelling developments’, because the proposal was not considered a multi-dwelling development.


4. Approaches to masterplanning are evolving

The Lysterfield Red Dot Decision has important implications for planning residential aged care facilities in future, and opens new opportunities for the height and site coverage of such developments. The size, scale and transition of aged care built forms can now be different to residential neighbours.

VIA’s Preston proposal, which includes an aged care residential facility and retirement village, highlights how a creative approach to masterplanning can see denser building forms free up more space for other uses – consequently having a positive impact on its surrounds. The design is consolidated in four buildings, with building height transitioning from the street frontage down to Darebin Creek. The scheme can therefore provide public access to outdoor space and routes along Darebin Creek.


Both the Lysterfield and Preston approvals indicate how careful interpretation of Clause 53.17, thoughtful planning, sensitivity to local council policy, and considered design can ensure aged care providers achieve commercial aims and address real community needs.


Aged Care Royal Commission, Background Paper 1.
Planning, Victoria State Government, Residential Aged Care Facilities,
Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Japara Developments Pty Ltd v Knox CC (Red Dot) [2019] VCAT 828
Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Stellar 206 Pty Ltd v Darebin CC [2019] VCAT 886


Disclaimer: This article is intended for high-level information purposes only. Via Architects does not accept liability for any actions taken as a result of the content of this article. Readers should consult the official State government website for full details of the Victoria Planning Provision.

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