Nedlands mayor Max Hipkins

The council of the blue ribbon electorate of Nedlands in Perth has passed a motion to make it mandatory for new homes and non-residential development over $1 million to come with on-site power generation. Just don’t call it a sustainability measure.

At a council meeting last week, an amendment to the town planning scheme was passed that stated:

All new development and at Council’s discretion, substantial additions to existing development shall provide on-site power generation by solar, wind or other means, approved by Council as follows:

i. For each residential dwelling – a minimum capacity of 1.5kW; and

ii. For each non-residential development with a value exceeding $1 million – capacity determined by Council with due regard to roof area and height.

Mayor of Nedlands Max Hipkins, a town planner and architect, said rather than use the politicised term sustainability, the council talked about energy and water efficiency.

“People are comfortable with making more efficient use of water and power,” he said.

Aside from energy efficiency, he told The Fifth Estate, the concept was sold as a way to reduce the need for council to install overhead power lines, improving amenity, and would also protect against blackouts as had occurred during a recent peak summer event, forcing the council to set up generators in parks.

“If we can generate our own power there’s less likelihood of blackouts,” he said.

The move also had greater implications for the electricity grid, reducing demand and driving prices down.

He said recent reports of the state power generator “being held over barrel” regarding supply of coal, and forced to pay extra $7 a tonne, had helped his push for mandatory solar.

“Environmental issues weren’t part of the discussion or argument, because that would have killed it.”

It wasn’t plain sailing, however, with the motion only passed six in favour to five against. Mr Hipkins had to use his casting vote to get the measure through.

And the move could also be vetoed by state government, which Mr Hipkins said there was a 50 per cent chance of happening.

And even if the move gets through state, it could be defeated by Nedlands when it comes back for approval. With three councillors away for the vote, Mr Hipkins said he didn’t know how the numbers would fall next time.

Those against the measure were “property rights” councillors, he said – ones who didn’t think property owners should be forced to do anything on land they owned.

One councillor reportedly called it an “act of socialism”.

These councillors, Mr Hipkins said, tended to be “rusted on members of the Liberal Party”.

He himself was a member of the Liberal Party until recently, though resigned for two reasons. First was the Barnett Government trying to push forward with council amalgamations without evidence that local government was inefficient. All the problems, Mr Hipkins said, seemed to be with the state government.

Second was his objection to the Elizabeth Quay project, which he said converted heritage parkland into a marina and commercial development.

Other sustainability measures contained in amendments

Mr Hipkins said that the council had made another two amendments, though these had been overshadowed by the solar announcement.

First, there is now a requirement for minimum floor levels for habitable rooms in areas that could be flooded in the future from rises in the Swan River or Indian ocean, both of which Nedlands faces.

The other was a requirement for 30 per cent of lot area to be landscaped, or 20 per cent for small lots or non-residential development. The way the building codes were written, Mr Hipkins said, meant that open space was defined to include paved areas or areas for carparking. While 50 per cent of residential developments had to be open space, there is no requirement for this to include any greenery or permeable surfaces.

Up to 100 per cent of surfaces in development could therefore end up with hard, impervious surfaces.

Twenty years ago, he said, Perth had a requirement for 50 per cent landscaping, though this had gradually been whittled away.