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Understanding the ‘storey’

Posted by Michael Quirk on 11 April 2022
Understanding the ‘storey’

What rooftop space is excluded from the calculation of building height?

In regulating built form, many local government planning schemes rely upon an administrative definition of storey in the following terms:

Storey -

  1. means a space within a building between 2 floor levels, or a floor level and a ceiling or roof, other than -
     
    1. a space containing only a lift shaft, stairway or meter room; or
    2. a space containing only a bathroom, shower room, laundry, toilet or other sanitary compartment; or
    3. a space containing only a combination of the things stated in subparagraph (i) or (ii); or
    4. a basement with a ceiling that is not more than 1m above ground level; and
       
  2. includes -
     
    1. a mezzanine; and
    2. a roofed structure that is on, or part of, a rooftop, if the structure does not only accommodate building plant and equipment. 

A desire to revitalise and activate wasted space has promoted design of multi-storey development to include rooftop open space.  Invariably such space will be accessed via an enclosed lift shaft and/or stairway area.  Whether such an area should be considered a storey was recently the subject of consideration in the matter of Robertson v Brisbane City Council & Ors [2021] QPEC 44; [2022] QCA 45.

Facts

The dispute arose in the P&E Court where a party opposed to a multi-storey apartment building sought to challenge that an enclosed lift shaft and stairway area used to access the rooftop should be counted as a storey.  It was argued that, because the plans described the 14 – 16m2 area adjoining the lift shaft and stairway as a ‘lobby’ and included this area in the overall GFA calculations for the building, the space did not only contain a lift shaft and stairway as required by the exclusion to the definition in paragraph (a)(i). 

In rejecting this argument and determining that the exclusion in (a)(iii) applied, the P&E Court observed that:

  • there was no indication the adjoining area could be used for any purpose other than accessing the lift or stairway;
  • the space was segregated from the outdoor rooftop area by a wall and access door;
  • it would be nonsensical not to have some covered space, be it a foyer or lobby to accommodate those waiting for a lift, exiting a lift or walking up the stairs;
  • to leave the lift and stairway exposed to the elements would hardly be a satisfactory outcome.

On appeal to the Court of Appeal the focus shifted to part (b) of the definition and whether the lift shaft and stairway area was a storey because it comprised a roof structure that was on, or part of, a rooftop and did not only accommodate building plant and equipment.

Decision

In finding that the area was not a storey as defined and that the P&E Court’s application of the exclusion in (a)(iii) was correct, the Court of Appeal interpreted the operation and application of the definition as follows:-

  • paragraph (a) is concerned with a space within a building;
  • paragraph (b) refers to a roofed structure that is on, or part of, a rooftop;
  • a space within a building cannot be, at the same time, a space which is on, or part of, the building’s rooftop;
  • applying the ordinary meaning to the terms floor level, ceiling, and roof, the area in question is clearly under a roof and within a building between a floor level and a ceiling or roof;
  • the area is not a distinct roof structure, but part of the building that includes part of a lift shaft which runs through the height of the building;
  • it would be awkward to describe the lift shaft as part of the structure that is on, or part of, the rooftop once it reaches the height of the rooftop;
  • similarly, the stairway occupies a shaft between the level of the rooftop and the level of the building immediately below so it is not on, or part of, the rooftop. 

Implications

Understanding what areas should be counted as a storey is fundamental to duly assessing built form development requirements and encouraging more efficient and effective use of rooftop open space.

For further information or advice in relation to these matters email Michael Quirk or contact our Planning & Environment Group on (07) 3243 0000.

Michael QuirkAuthor:Michael Quirk
About: Michael is a senior partner in the firm's Planning & Environment Group.

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