John Wakefield has been mayor at Waverley Council once before so he’s well prepared to tackle stronger sustainability challenges. Councils, he says, need to have grand ideas.

Australia’s burgeoning waste problem and the need to lift sustainability standards in developments – including strong improvements in the “no longer fit for purpose” BASIX rating system – are key environmental issues currently affecting Waverley Council.

According to Waverley Council mayor John Wakefield, elected in September last year, stronger leadership was needed from state and federal governments in response to China’s “National Sword” policy, which in January 2018 saw the country stop importing certain waste products from overseas, including Australia.

In an exclusive interview with The Fifth Estate, Cr Wakefield said that in order to avoid a crisis, joint recycling processing facilities for local governments had to be considered, and governments needed to find ways to finance major recycling programs.

“Immediate action” was needed from the upper tiers of government to find a solution to the current waste management issues that councils can enact.

Some direction on this issue can be expected from the federal government as part of its response to a Senate Inquiry into Australia’s waste and recycling problem, which was delivered to parliament on Tuesday.

The report is described as a “national blueprint” for solving the waste crisis, and notably recommends a national ban on single-use plastics within five years.

Cr Wakefield was also concerned that the NSW Building Sustainability Index (BASIX), which is the responsibility of the state government, needed to be further upgraded.

First introduced in 2004, the index helps reduce water and energy use in homes in the state.

Energy standards were lifted for the first time last year but despite government seeking feedback on further improvements no action had been taken so far.

This call was backed by one of Australia’s leading advocates for sustainability, Envirotecture principal Dick Clarke, who said both BASIX and NatHERS rating systems used climate data stretching back 30 years.

Mr Clarke said thermal experts pointed to four times the number of days over 35°C in places such as Western Sydney within five years, at a time when the industry had the technical knowledge, materials and low-cost solar power to deliver much higher housing performance standards.

Waverley setting targets and action for “real change”

Cr Wakefield, an economic geographer who co-founded property research company CPM Research, and is in the mayoral role at Waverley for the second time, said the era of “motherhood statements” was over.

The council was now adopting “targets and actions” to help it achieve real change.

Grand ideas, vast roof spaces for greening and solar and… a cycleway

“Councils have to have grand ideas,” he said.

The council committed to the Environmental Action Plan 2018-2030 earlier this month.

Key initiatives in the pipeline include using Bondi Junction’s vast “square meterage” of residential rooftops for solar generation and green spaces, and the construction of a cycleway through the precinct.

The council has recently gone to tender to construct the cycleway in Bondi Junction, which will “enable a safe means of active transport through this popular centre”.

The council is also currently focused on the Building Futures program, which involves identifying water, energy and waste improvements, mainly in Bondi Junction buildings.

If the first round of apartments achieves substantial water and energy savings, then the council will look at delivering the program more broadly to the large number of strata buildings in Waverley, especially around Bondi.

The 2018-2030 environmental plan is structured around eight key environmental management areas: greenhouse, transport, waste, water saving, water quality, biodiversity, “integrated strategies” and “monitor, review and report”.

Waverley Council has a strong track-record of supporting sustainability initiatives. However, the council recently stopped an initiative that involved composting the Bondi Pavilion’s food waste, according to one of the initiators of the scheme and columnist for The Fifth Estate Michael Mobbs.

with Tina Perinotto