by Lynne Blundell

All new commercial buildings in Macquarie Park must be 4 Green Star, with incentives to go to 5 Star. Macquarie Park has been targeted in the NSW government’s Sydney Metropolitan Strategy for significant growth.

In a perfect world Sam Capelli, environment manager with City of Ryde Council, would like to see local government sustainability requirements for developments pushed much higher. But in this far from perfect world, where developers and residents baulk at paying extra for green, he knows he has to settle for compromise. After all, he points out to The Fifth Estate, sustainability is about people as well as the environment.

The City of Ryde is part of a growing body of NSW local councils pushing for higher standards of sustainable development through its updated Local Environment Plan (LEP), incorporating a raft of energy and water conservation measures as well as incentives for developers to be more sustainable.

The Ryde precinct contains the Macquarie Park region, targeted in the NSW government’s Sydney Metropolitan Strategy for significant growth. Under the planning strategy the “global economic corridor” stretching from Macquarie Park to the CBD and through to the airport is expected to accommodate an extra 150,000 jobs over the next 20 to 30 years.

The council’s draft LEP 2008, and draft Development Control Plan (DCP) 2008, both enhance its existing development controls which stipulate a minimum 4 Star Green Star rating for new commercial buildings in the Macquarie Park corridor. Additional water conservation and stormwater management measures have been included in the updated LEP.

The council would have liked to go further – up to 5 Star – but stuck to the 4 Star requirement following submissions from building owners and developers that higher mandatory requirements would be too costly for new developments.

Instead, developers are offered financial incentives such as extra floor space to go to 5 Star.

Ryde, along with councils across NSW, is in the process of updating its Local Environment Plan (LEP) to meet the requirements of the NSW Department of Planning to standardise LEPs. Its current Draft LEP is a step along the way to submitting a comprehensive LEP by the end of 2010.

Part of a council push for sustainable development says LGSA president

Genia McCaffery: “Ryde should be applauded for what it is doing. There is a definite move amongst councils for higher levels of sustainable development.”

Genia McCaffery, president of the NSW Local Government Association (LGSA) and mayor of North Sydney Council, told TFE that Ryde was part of a growing movement of councils pushing for higher sustainability standards.

“Ryde should be applauded for what it is doing. There is a definite move amongst councils for higher levels of sustainable development,” McCaffery said.

Regarding residential standards, the introduction of BASIX had enforced minimum requirements. McCaffery said she was not aware of other councils that had yet included Green Star requirements in their development requirements.

“Councils like mine and the City of Sydney are involved in CitySwitch which aims to reduce energy consumption, and we are also looking at the issue of Green Star ratings at the moment but this is still being developed,” McCaffery said.

Building energy and water efficiency into LEPs

Back at Ryde, Sam Capelli is working hard to make sure sustainability, in particular water and energy efficiency, is built into the new LEP. He would like to impose higher environmental standards for both residential and commercial development but is conscious that there needs to be a balance between environmental and social needs of the community.

“We have brought in a whole gamut of environmental measures to do with water conservation, energy efficiency and protection of the environment. And while I would like to impose even higher standards in some areas I am very conscious of the cost.

“The mums and dads in particular are not always able to afford these things and it is important to remember that sustainability is not just about the environment – it must include social, environmental and governance aspects. We have a number of different committees to make sure the balance is right,” says Capelli.

The higher Green Star requirement for the Macquarie Park corridor reflects the pace of growth occurring in that area.

“This is an area earmarked for substantial development and it is very important that we make sustainability a key feature of future development. While we have set the minimum standard at 4 Star we’re trying to encourage 5 Star as Australian best practice and if a developer is prepared to go up to 5 Star then we will offer them extra floor space as a financial incentive.

“Developers are very attracted by these incentives and while going the extra distance for 5 star may be an additional cost up front there are benefits to the bottom line over the medium to longer term through savings on water and energy costs. It also promotes them as an environmentally responsible organisation,” says Capelli.

While Ryde is ahead of the game in terms of sustainable development requirements, Sam Capelli believes more can be done in terms of water conservation and quality. With that in mind, the council has been developing a set of guidelines that will help build water conservation into planning requirements. These will include aspects such as bio-retention systems, water sensitive design and filter systems for polishing and cleaning water including wetlands where appropriate.

Integrated transport is another focus area and one where Ryde can do better, says Capelli.

“Transport is one of the biggest issues in Ryde. We’ve put in place an integrated transport and land use strategy to address this. As part of that we’ve introduced a community bus to link four different community centres at offpeak times as a free service.”

The NSW Department of Planning set a timetable for Councils to get their LEPs updated, with the first 92 to be completed by March 2009. Many, it seems, are lagging behind; the Department recently wrote to councils saying that due to delays in meeting the deadline it had prepared a priority list of those that would get help in fast tracking their LEPs.

The Department said the preparation of the new standardised LEPs had proved “more intensive than originally anticipated” and rather than being an exercise of simply converting existing planning instruments to the new form, most councils had used the LEP update to do strategic planning and change policies that required extensive community consultation.

lblundell@thefifthestate.com.au