Liverpool council tree planting
Photo: Liverpool City Council

Western Sydney Rising Series: From tree planting to creating incentives for low-carbon buildings, Sydney’s Liverpool Council is pulling some powerful levers to build a sustainable, liveable city.

When the federal government announced two years ago that Western Sydney Airport Corporation would be based at Liverpool, the phones at the local council ran hot.

Sydney’s second airport is one of the biggest projects being built in Australia so locating the corporation smack in the middle of Liverpool was a magnet for other businesses, Liverpool City Council CEO Kiersten Fishburn says.

“The phones were going nuts …. They all wanted to be next door to the people building the airport,” she remembers.

It was a salutary lesson for Fishburn, who says if there was one thing she could do to make a big difference to Liverpool’s prospects, it would be to headquarter more government agencies in its CBD.

“That starts the flow. Once you get government agencies you get greater commitment from the commercial sector because they have more confidence about where they are moving their offices to,” she says, noting that the shift of government jobs from Sydney’s CBD to Parramatta some years ago was the catalyst for that city’s modern renaissance.

Strong jobs growth could help solve Liverpool’s other big issue: transport and traffic.

“I know that it is a Sydney-wide thing but in the west, try getting on to the M5 [part of Sydney’s orbital network] during peak hour and you will see it is a really big issue. The way that is resolved is to get more jobs into [Western Sydney] CBDs and in clusters,” she explains.

Transport infrastructure and job creation can only successfully be planned across Western Sydney, something made much easier by the creation of the Greater Sydney Commission in 2016, and the signing of the Western Sydney City Deal last year by the three levels of government.

Those collaborations have removed some of the competitive tension between local governments in the region, Fishburn says.

Infrastructure deficit means growing the pie not just cutting it up differently

“There is an understanding among the councils that what they are looking for is to grow the pie not just cut it up differently. I don’t think you could have said three or four years ago that councils could work together.”

That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of challenges ahead.

“It is indisputable that there is an infrastructure deficit in the West already but a lot of the planned infrastructure is for future growth … there is a significant amount of work to be done to catch up.”

It’s hot in the west – drop in and see

As for climate change, Fishburn challenges anyone to visit Liverpool in mid January and claim there isn’t a problem. It experiences more than double the number of days over 35 degrees than the Sydney metropolitan average.

“Putting aside the environmental sustainability issues – which I don’t want to diminish in any way – it creates a significant financial burden for the people of the West. They have to run airconditioning or heating (it also gets cold in winter) significantly more than people living in eastern Sydney.”

A useful leverage to achieve low carbon buildings for developers is time

Liverpool Council is looking at ways it can work with the building industry to make buildings more sustainable, such as creating

Kiersten Fishburn, Liverpool City Council

incentives for net zero carbon and low-carbon buildings. The single biggest lever in the hands of local government, says Fishburn, is time.

“If we get the development community to appreciate that if they meet certain conditions from day one their development application will get out the door significantly faster, that is the incentive that will make a big difference. Time is money.”

The other powerful thing councils can do to help mitigate climate change is much easier.

Controlling the heat starts with trees

“It sounds ridiculously simplistic but the best possible thing you could do is to plant trees,” the Liverpool CEO says.

The council’s own research shows trees are a far more effective way of mitigating high temperatures than street or building awnings. Trees can also improve air quality.

“In the past, trees have been a problem for planners. They have to be maintained; they drop leaves; tree roots can do damage … but now we have data that demonstrates that, whatever you might find challenging about a tree, it does its job so much better than an awning.”

With funding from the State Government’s 5 million trees program, Liverpool will plant over 100 trees in its CBD by the end of next year.

“We will be able to see and feel a tangible difference in the CBD very rapidly,” says Fishburn. “That will give us further data as we roll it out to our suburban areas.”

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