Commissioner for environmental sustainability Victoria Professor Kate Auty

28 November 2013 — Victoria needs to look to NSW for some legislative tools to improve sustainable design for housing and it also needs to embrace more compact development along transport corridors and nodes, the State of the Environment report released today [Thursday] has found.

Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability Victoria Professor Kate Auty also called for tax incentives to generate desired outcomes.

A range of options could be used to support and promote sustainable housing design, Professor Auty said, with the report calling for a new framework to address:

  • innovative tax and incentive arrangements
  • split incentives
  • current regulatory barriers, including red tape

Currently the system did not encourage “proactive interest in urban form or a housing market that promoted a lower environmental impact, community resilience or the social connectivity required to support more sustainable outcomes”, the report stated.

Understanding the barriers to change was key as well, as the “actual ‘mix’ of housing and land-use development which the public/consumer requires” was not reflected in what was available.

The report said there were many mechanisms to support environmentally sustainable design in housing.

Quoted in the report was Victorian State Architect Geoffrey London who said:

“It is possible to legislate for better design and sustainability outcomes. The example of [State Environmental Planning Policy] 65 in New South Wales is a compelling instance of legislation lifting the bar on apartment designs in Sydney and specifying a number of performance standards that result in better environmental performance.

“SEPP 65 sets out levels of amenity which must be achieved, including solar access, cross-ventilation and sound separation between apartments.”

Efficiency mandates for social housing

The report also made a recommendation that the Victorian Government include efficiency requirements in the design, development and refurbishment of all its social housing and other community buildings. Efficiency considerations could include green lease arrangements, green building design and decentralised energy.

Get the community on side

The report also cited the difficulty of infill development and increasing residential density as a barrier to sustainable housing development and noted that residents in established low-density suburbs frequently opposed even slight increases in density.

“This opposition is not well understood and the issue requires more research and commentary,” the report said.

Perceptions that density increases were not conducive to living well and that poor outcomes would spill over into residential neighbourhoods were “a real challenge in advancing a planning agenda promoting greater density”.

One solution was clearly defined development corridors in established public transport areas, which had the potential to ease concerns about medium-density spill-over into low-density areas.

This is an idea that has been promoted by Rob Adams, City of Melbourne’s director of design, and more recently picked up in work by the Property Council of Australia and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam in Perth.

The theory is that this kind of development adds to business and activity areas along transport corridors but allows the infill areas to remain undisturbed, lessening the likelihood of community objection.

The report said that compact development – particularly near public transport corridors, jobs and services – could also achieve a lower level of environmental intrusion and help retain ecosystem services on the urban fringe.

It also said that case studies and visualisation exercises could be used to demonstrate that medium density does not equate to “high-rise” living, thereby working to overcome some adverse perceptions.

The NSW Urban Taskforce recently launched the Ecodencity site to help people understand the different living arrangements increased density could lead to. It features a density simulator where users can input different options based on population per hectare and amount of open space required.

The State of the Environment report was tabled in Victorian parliament on Thursday, and the government has one year to respond to its recommendations.

Key recommendations

Other recommendations involving sustainable communities included that the Victorian Government:

  • establish an independent statutory planning authority
  • assume leadership by supporting industry and community in implementing sustainable urban development by developing guides and public awareness tools
  • establish an independent transport working group to investigate and recommend best practice transport improvements
  • expand implementation of the SmartBus system throughout Victoria to improve public transport access
  • investigate road-transport pricing and payment measures
  • establish an independent, statutory authority to analyse Victoria’s priority infrastructure needs and make recommendations
  • establish a Statewide Urban Forestry Strategy
  • fund multi-sectoral research into the potential impacts of emissions from emerging sources and review the current status and projected change of the emissions
  • address emissions standards to reduce exposure to particles and ozone

Key recommendations from the rest of the report included that the Victorian Government:

  • protect native vegetation on public and private land by amending permitted clearing regulations
  • adopt a strategy that delivers water-sensitive urban design and integrated water cycle management as standard practice
  • strengthen incentives and assume a leadership role to improve the efficiency of material reclamation from the waste stream
  • plan an integrated Modern Energy System for Victoria
  • benchmark vulnerability and adaptive capacity at a community level

“The recommendations I have made are well considered, based on research and consultation,” Professor Auty said.

“They are strategic, and needed for the health of our ecosystems and the continued wellbeing of our community.

“The changes are necessary, they are generational choices – investments in our future, and they require leadership and foresight from us all.”

The report can be viewed on the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability website.

One reply on “Victorian sustainability commissioner: incentivise sustainable housing”

  1. NSW was once a leader in sustainable planning & development. But under the Liberal Government all State Environmental planning policies are to be repealed so that the development lobby can have its way and ignore all of them. The new Vague is broad policy statements that have no statutory effect. Do what NSW did in previous decades NOT what it proposes to do!

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