Sep 7, 2015 - News    8 Comments

Innovation in small homes being investigated for Freo


A traditional Freo cottage

The current R-Codes and Scheme does not always deliver good outcomes in our neighbourhoods. Too often we end up with developments without gardens, with excessive building bulk and overshadowing that negatively affects neighbours.

To combat this, and provide more diverse quality housing options, The Council is investigating a possible Scheme Amendment that would create more modest, affordable, sustainable homes and provide housing diversity that suits different peoples needs.

The amendment proposes:

– maximum dwelling size 120m2

– 70% open space

– 20% deep root planting zone (trees)

– minimum 5m setback at the rear

– maximum 1 car bay per dwelling

– strict design guidelines and mechanisms will apply

– streetscape policy will apply

We are taking a very cautious approach, thoroughly investigating the potential interpretations with the help of experts from the Australian Urban Design Research Centre to ensure the desired outcomes are achieved. A report on the investigation and next steps will be debated at the Special Projects Committee this Wednesday (see the SPC agenda and agenda attachments here for all the details). 

This scheme amendment hopes to allow people to age in place, downsizing into a more appropriate sized home when children leave home, or enable first homebuyers to purchase smaller, more affordable homes in a suburban environment in Fremantle. These homes would also be cheaper to live in as they are smaller, use less energy and will be close to work opportunities and good transport options.

The median house price in Fremantle is currently $810,000 ( August 2015) this is unaffordable to many people who would like to live in Fremantle. It is unaffordable to young people who grew up here contemplating buying their first home.

Not everyone wants to live in an apartment, but would be happy with a modest suburban home that is more like the traditional workers cottages Fremantle is famous for than the oversized McMansions that are permitted – and in fact encouraged – by the current planning scheme and dominate new developments today.

The potential benefits for Fremantle

This amendment will increase the amount of trees and back yards in suburban Fremantle. It will increase the rear setback, therefore reducing the scale of building bulk and overshadowing that affects neighbours.

It will provide more housing options in Fremantle for first home buyers, artists, young people, down-sizers, single average wage earners and it will increase the local population to support the local economy.

We need more people living, working and playing in Fremantle and providing diverse affordable housing will help us achieve that.

Tiny Houses

A contemporary Tiny House

The “Tiny house” movement has become popular in Fremantle. Many people would like to live in a modest home that offers excellent lifestyle and minimal cost and environmental impact. They want to be surrounded by trees and garden in a suburban setting.

At present, single Tiny Homes can only be built and rented on lots under the existing Ancillary Dwelling rules. This scheme amendment is investigating how we can enable a number of Tiny Houses to be built on a lot with extensive gardens and trees then be bought and sold independently.

This investigation into how we provide diverse small housing options for Fremantle has been developed over the past 12 months, but we still have some way to go to make sure we get it right.

What do you think of the concept?


  • Hi Rachel – I think this is a great initiative, well done Fremantle. Local policies that cater for smaller dwellings is a smart, forward-thinking solution for the changing demographics in Australian households. With lone households, single parents and childless couple households on the increase (in Fremantle they represent something like 60% of households), people need affordable alternatives to the 4 x 2 and 3 x 2 housing model that has become the norm.

    Some thoughts:
    – 120m2 max, but would be interesting to see what is the minimum (120m2 is actually quite generous)
    – 5m setback from the rear: I question if it wouldn’t be useful to permit dwellings on the boundary. I imagine circumstances where a smaller dwelling is being added to the rear of an existing dwelling – by having a minimum setback from the rear, you would effectively be dividing the garden space into smaller parcels. By allowing small dwellings on the boundary, you could maximise the garden space in the middle between the two dwellings, giving the opportunity to create shared communal space if appropriate. (This would also depend on the orientation of the block also)
    – Would the creation of these smaller dwellings via division/renovation of an existing house be permitted? I think this would be an exciting application, and give people already owning property a way to downsize in place, whilst adding affordable housing stock to the market (without adding new buildings)
    – The proposed mechanisms for selling these smaller dwellings would also be interesting – eg, are they going to be strata titled, or some other alternative suggested?

    • Hi Meriam,
      Thanks for your email and good questions. I entirely agree that 120m2 is massive and have been flagging with my colleagues that I would rather that number be 100m (or even less).

      The rationale for suggesting the 5m minimum setback at the rear is discussed in the report. It is to avoid 2 story boundary walls that loom over existing neighbours gardens. I agree that there may be merit in single story boundary walls to allow central gardens, but we are trying to balance the amenity of the neighbours with the good design outcome for the occupants. It will be interesting to see how the debate goes on Wednesday night (come along!!)

      It is certainly my hope that this scheme amendment will include the conversion of large single dwellings into smaller multiple dwellings and that is how it is being handled by staff at present. However all the relevant building code requirements would have to be applied (fire walls etc) to be approvable. i LOIVE the idea of converting McMansions into multiple dwellings in the not too distant future.

      How they would be sold is an issue we haven’t addressed yet – and I suspect that the WAPC would be the determinant of that – as they would issue the titles. It is important to note our intention is that these would have to be built before subdivision or strata titling could occur. This is to avoid speculators and ensure that we have the desired built form approved and complete before the subdivision occurs. It does limit the kind of people who could initiate this sort of development (existing landowners, developers or groups of friends who team up), but it will stop speculation from people wanting to make a quick buck.

  • Absolutely love the idea! Yes, hubbie and I would be in for that. We would much prefer more garden, less house, more affordable. We have been looking at the tiny house movement for a while- legislation here makes it so difficult.

  • Tiny houses Fantastic idea! More trees and vege gardens and minimise the need for over 50’s to live in share houses so as to afford rent! Please look at this as a serious option to the single ageing population !

  • WOW! Yes – and here I was thinking we were the only people that want to live like that! Fantastic initiative – thank you for doing this for the people.

  • Hi Rachel

    My comment is that “affordable” is a relative term, and before anything else perhaps the council can find a way to work backwards from what studies and expertise show will most likely be the price of those homes – both at first offering and at point of re-sale and ensure that the homes are actually affordable to many (medium income mark) and will remain so, otherwise they aren’t really affordable for many or for long.

    The assessment, in all reality, should be done in hard figures, ie likely real estate/rental prices, as opposed to estimates of what occupants “could” save if they followed a very efficient household profile, or what the properties may save in costs through set and forget efficiencies.

    This is a difficult thing to ensure, predict, gauge and certainly after the house has left the concept/build/sold stage.

    At this point, do you have an idea (a) what price these properties could sell or rent for? (b) under what circumstances they can be sold and – boldly! – for what profit margin, (c) an idea of what income range household would be able to afford to live in such properties?

    My deep concern is that not a lot is turning out to be that much more affordable, and certainly not being “returned to a pool of affordability” for someone else to benefit from.


    • Hi Diana,
      The Council has an affordable housing policy, which describes what we mean by the term. And you are certainly right – it is a very relative term – and in Freo, land is very expensive, so that further impacts what can be achieved. For your info, the policy is here

      Unfortunately there is no simple answer to your question about what these might cost when built. There are too many variables such as the location, size and quality of the final product and the person selling the property. The market will decide on the price ultimately on a case by case basis.

      This process is also likely to take at least 18 months, so the speed at which people decide to take a punt and build some and the market at the time will also be a factor in the final price.

      I hope that because these will be less than half the size of the average Aussie home, they will come in at a much cheaper price (more like a small apartment than a house). I also expect these will also offer more affordable cost of living, due to being located near local jobs opportunities, use less energy and have access to public transport, walking and cycling options. Because all too often ‘affordable housing’ is really expensive to live in!

  • HI Rachel

    Have just seen you interviewed on a tv program and the segment caught my attention. How absolutely fantastic. I love the initiative.

    I have been following and saving ‘small house’ examples from around the world and there appears to be more and more people wanting to live by different values in life. Those values are quality of life, better integration with nature, lessening work time along with more family time, and also a lesser desire and need for wealth and possessions.

    It’s great this is happening in Australia and Freo seems a great place for it to happen. Will be following with interest.