Michael Mobbs

13 July 2012 ­– What’s the plan?

That’s the question sustainability consultant Michael Mobbs is asking after being asked to write a blueprint for “a sustainable house in a sustainable street in a sustainable suburb”.

Who asked for the report?The City of Sydney. Who doesn’t want it now it’s finished? Apparently the City of Sydney.

The City of Sydney denies this.

It’s all a bit odd.

In December 2010, Mr Mobbs, who specialises in the design, construction and project management of sustainable food, water, energy and recycled water projects, was asked to make a plan based on the suburb of Chippendale.

Last year he created the plan, with an eye on all things, naturally, sustainable.

This included giving priority to sustainable development to make it cheaper and faster for residents and developers to gain approvals along with some pre-approved designs including road gardens, vertical gardens for cafes and business and urban farms.

Mr Mobbs also reckoned on needing just 10 years to have all of the suburb’s water obtained from rainwater and to reuse all sewage with more than 30 per cent of food to be grown in urban farms, road gardens and rooftops.

“Growing, producing, transporting and waste of food causes over 24 per cent of our carbon pollution so local food is a key goal,” he said.

Mr Mobbs said that to meet council’s legal obligations to create financial incentives to promote sustainable development, the plan would give rate rebates and other financial incentives to people – including tenants –  who compost,  create road gardens, build green, cut waste and use car share and bikes.

Local Aboriginal people were also asked for input, he said.

“Perhaps for the first time trees and plants were chosen after asking Aboriginal elders which were best for a city. And the plan reaches out to artists for a helping hand with an art plan that creates an annual road arts festival.”

Mr Mobbs also designed “cool roads” with roads currently taking up more than 25 per cent of city land and acting as radiators heating cities 6 or more degrees hotter than the natural environment. Roads in the suburb, under the plan, could also be closed off over weekends to allow more room for children to play or for community barbecues.

The plan’s creator thought it all sounded like a good thing. But he says “for unexplained reasons” council staff  appear have no interest in his plan and he says they refuse to take it to councillors for consideration.

He points to a link for the brochure about the plan, which says that “Following the workshops, a draft project plan will be drawn up and shared with local residents before a final plan is taken to council for approval.”

A Council resolution from  6 December 2010, Item 4.3 headed, Greening Sydney – sustainable streets, sustainable communities demonstration project – Myrtle street and surrounding areas Chippendale, says,  “The Plan embraces current programs and new strategies to green the City and will be reported to Council in early 2011 for endorsement. It will include actions to achieve sustainable streets and sustainable communities.”

And while the plan is on the internet for all to see and implement, despite being asked by the City to remove it, Mr Mobbs remains baffled by the City’s reluctance to view a plan it commissioned.

Mr Mobbs says he is disappointed council staff and Lord Mayor Clover Moore have  declined invitations  to visit his sustainable house. And he says he believes that input by Aboriginal people into the type of trees that should be incorporate under the plan has been rejected.

In Mr Mobbs’ view the plan has shored up significant community support. He points to 670 signatories in support of the plan at his website www.theplan.sustainablehouse.com.au/engaging-community/

Support, in writing, includes from Peter Newman, professor of sustainability at Curtain University who also organised a contribution of  $2000 for a thermal monitoring station for the purposes of the plan.

Other high profile supporters include: John Connor, chief executive of the Climate Institute;  author and local  resident David Malouf; Brian Zulaikha, immediate past president of the Australian Institute of Architects; artists Janet Laurence who has a studio in Chippendale; Jennifer Turpin who is contributing to Broadway Central project in Chippendal; and celebrity gardener Costa Georgiadis.

“My guess is the staff oppose the plan because the plan restores power to the community; it gives back power to residents and businesses to choose and plant their own plants and trees on Aboriginal advice, and gives rate rebates for those who go green,” Mr Mobbs said.

“But I don’t know as they’ve never told me which parts of the plan they don’t like.

“The point is the community should be given the whole plan to comment on and the staff should not turn this into their show which only they run.”

Mr Mobbs said the plan was being picked up by other councils who had commissioned him to make “cool streets to cool the air, to cut aircon use and to grow local food”.

Three delegations from China have also visited to discuss the plan and consider how to apply it back home.

A City of Sydney spokesperson said that, as part of the City’s Greening Sydney Plan, a local sustainable streets demonstration project had been trialled.

“The City engaged Michael Mobbs as a consultant, given his experience in building community capacity in sustainability, to assist with the project,” the spokesperson said.

“Last year, we organised a public meeting in Chippendale and four community workshops as part of the pilot.

“Under the terms of his consultancy contract, Mr Mobbs prepared a draft report for the City.

“The City received his draft, and while not all of his recommendations are viable, a number have potential and will be included in the final Sustainable Streets, Sustainable Communities report to Council.

“After being submitted to Council for consideration, the report will be placed on public exhibition.”

The spokesman said some initiatives to make our communities more sustainable included:

  • Cooling the suburb – for example, by increasing tree canopy coverage, and using different construction materials in our roads, footways and buildings
  • Introducing more efficient street and footway lighting
  • Harvesting rainwater
  • Establishing additional road and verge gardens
  • Increasing the use of car share arrangements
  • Providing improved access and safety for pedestrians and cyclists
  • Growing more local food and increasing biodiversity
  • Reducing energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions

“The City’s Greening Sydney Plan included programs to encourage people to share gardens, plant their verges and median strips, and join community gardens and landcare groups,” the spokesperson said.

“It’s designed to develop the City’s urban forest, improve habitat and biodiversity, encourage participation, improve streetscapes and public places, and green private development.”

The spokesperson did not detail which of Mr Mobbs’ recommendations were viable, nor a time frame for when council would receive the final, combined, Sustainable Streets, Sustainable Communities report.