More Victorian councils pushing for sustainability at planning stage
City of Moreland - the “epicentre” of this movement.

Victoria’s sustainability crusade continues at the local government level, with seven new councils mandating Environmentally Sustainable Development (ESD) clauses in their planning schemes.

Now more than half of metropolitan Melbourne’s councils – a total of 17 – are imposing tougher sustainability conditions on developers at the planning stage.

Outside Melbourne, Greater Bendigo is the first regional council to add ESD to its planning scheme.

Director of ESD consultancy firm EcoResults Samuel Thomson told The Fifth Estate that the City of Moreland in Melbourne’s inner north had been the “epicentre” of this movement.

He said this started in the northern suburbs before sweeping through other northern and inner ring areas, with Yarra, Port Phillip, Stonnington, Melbourne and Darebin being early adopters.

The new councils are the City of Whittlesea, City of Greater Bendigo, Brimbank City Council, the City of Greater Dandenong, Hobsons Bay City Council, the City of Kingston and the City of Wyndham.

Victorian councils leading the way

Mr Thomson said that Victoria generally has much stricter planning controls (not just ESD) than some other jurisdictions.

He said that in Queensland councils, for example, there are generally “less hoops” for developers to jump though than in most NSW and Victorian councils.

This is complicated by environmental regulations at the state level, such as NSW’s Building Sustainability Index (BASIX). BASIX is a mandatory scheme that enforces minimum energy efficiency and water usage standards for all new dwellings and alterations and additions to existing dwellings, and is implemented at the building approval stage. 

Early intervention is best

Mr Thomson said that more and more Victorian councils are starting to see the benefits of applying sustainable design principles “sooner rather than later”.

He said that although there has been some debate over whether ESD clauses should be included in the planning or building approval stages, councils have started to recognise that intervening early is the most inexpensive and effective way of achieving sustainable outcomes.

At this early stage, it’s easy to make straightforward and inexpensive tweaks to the building design that vastly improve the sustainability performance of the building, such as changing the orientation.

At the building approval stage, in contrast, the design has already been approved and endorsed through a lengthy planning process, making it far more difficult to make changes. 

Retrofitting sustainability initiatives onto an existing building is can also be problematic, he said.

“Retrofitting is the least efficient way to do it. If everyone has to retrofit off their own back that’s really expensive.”

Mr Thomson also said there are economies of scale benefits to be realised from including ESD requirements at the planning stage. For example, it’s more likely households will share water tanks instead of having their own individual tanks under these conditions.

“There’s basically less cost per dwelling if you are doing these things at inception.”

Statewide response to follow 

The councils’ ESD amendments will serve as an interim arrangement while a holistic and consistent statewide approach to ESD is prepared.

In the GC110 Explanatory Report that was released with the planning approval amendment, it states that: “The amendment is required to strengthen the ability of responsible authorities to consider ESD through the Local Planning Policy Framework, while a comprehensive statewide response on ESD is prepared.”

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  1. Poppy, thanks for the response, however I don’t know f you missed my point or understand the VCAT process. Councils here in Australia don’t have the power to mandate the standards they are trying to set. An example in Moreland, the council you hold up as an exemplar precedent, is the development at the bottom of sydney road on the old Irish pub site which was recently awarded planning via VCAT and makes absolutely no effort to offer any sustainable design features. It is called Sarah Sands, take a look:

    I think the story in Melbourne and Australia more widely is the gross mismanagement of the planning process and the more attention that is paid to this the better.

  2. I really wish it wasn’t left up to individual councils to dabble in the area of highlighting the importance of design, advocate for lifting MINIMUM standards of construction and to introduce new policy considerations. Considerations aiming to improve the comfort level, health and reduce the operational cost for future occupants. Let’s not forget the environmental and social reasons as well.

    The sad truth however is nothing substantial is being done at the state and national level (at this stage) and until something changes this will frustratingly for both councils and the community continue to occur at the municipal level.

    Let’s all keep on nudging them in the right direction and hopefully something substantial will occur soon (fingers crossed).

  3. Hi Richard, we agree with you and in no way were suggesting that councils adopting ESD clauses in their planning schemes will be the panacea for all sustainable design problems. We are just suggesting that this is a step in the right direction.

  4. We’re dreaming if we think that councils have enough power to mandate the sustainable design of our built environment.

    Where developers come up against council policy they don’t like which is not consistent with national policy they simply go to VCAT. How this isn’t mentioned in an article about planning in Melbourne is bordering on misinformation.

    The local planning policy is only a nudge at best and many of the developments we are seeing in Melbourne’s suburbs are products of VCAT. The councils need actual power like those in London and the UK more broadly, where local councils, cities and counties set the agenda, often beyond that of the national building regulations, and have the power to enforce it.