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Councils take lead in sustainable building design after state failure

A lack of state leadership in setting a sustainable building standard has caused a group of councils in Melbourne to push for innovation from the ground up.

The Council Alliance for Sustainable Built Environment will next week launch an online rating tool to help planning applicants meet higher sustainability standards in building design.

The Built Environment Sustainability Scorecard, or BESS, assesses energy and water efficiency, thermal comfort and overall sustainable performance of a variety of buildings and renovations.

The tool is designed to help people meet the criteria of a new Environmental Sustainable Design policy the alliance submitted to the Victorian state planning department last year.

If approved, the policy would give councils a statutory mechanism in the planning scheme to require a sustainability assessment.

It would be compulsory – instead of voluntary – for developers and builders to submit a sustainable design assessment or management plan for most developments and some extensions.

City of Yarra advisor Euan Williamson said the lack of initiative at state level was the impetus for local governments to create the new policy and the BESS tool.

“We decided to take it into our own hands and take the hard road and push it from the ground up,” Mr Williamson said.

“There isn’t the leadership at a state level.

“There are some provisions in the state framework but it’s pretty ambiguous in some ways – it’s not particularly rigorous.

“We’d definitely welcome a policy rolled out at state level.”

The new requirements would demand a holistic design approach across 10 categories:

  • Indoor environment quality
  • Energy efficiency
  • Water efficiency
  • Stormwater management
  • Materials
  • Urban ecology
  • Transport
  • Waste
  • Management
  • Innovation

The new policy is yet to be approved and has been stalled in the planning department for 10 months.

Planning minister Richard Wynne did not respond to The Fifth Estate’s requests for information on when or if the policy will be approved.

The council alliance is frustrated that approval is taking so long.

Moreland City Council manager of strategy and design Sue Vujcevic said the policy was a “no brainer” and it was time it was approved.

Ms Vujcevic said the sooner sustainable building standards were tightened at the planning stage, the better.

“We’re getting development applications that have poor outcomes for future residents; a lack of communal facilities, really small balconies, apartments that really lack larger opportunities for two or three bedrooms, a lot of reliance on mechanical heating and ventilation,” she said.

Mr Williamson said the councils received favourable feedback about the policy when the state government changed hands in November last year.

“We got the indication it was on the agenda to be considered,” he said.

“The last time we met with them they said they had so many amendments to process. They’re catching up on a backlog basically.”

City of Port Phillip mayor Amanda Stevens said the ESD policy would ensure that sustainable design was considered at the start of the design stage, rather than being an afterthought, or worse still, she said, overlooked completely.

“The cost to an applicant of achieving good sustainable design outcomes can be relatively low, with the potential for financial payback, due to lower operational costs such as energy bills,” she said.

Ms Stevens said a “groundswell” of councils seeking to include the new sustainable building policy in their planning schemes could lead to leadership in sustainable design at state level.

The council alliance was initially comprised of seven councils: Port Phillip, Moreland, Yarra, Stonnington, Banyule, Whitehorse and Monash.

Another seven metropolitan councils are seeking to adopt the new policy and have joined in the creation of the BESS tool.

The BESS tool is free and the councils are hoping it will encourage anyone, regardless how small their dwelling, to use it to make their home more sustainable.

BESS replaces two older rating tools, SDS and STEPS, which were used to assess non-residential and residential buildings respectively.

The BESS tool will be launched on Wednesday 13 May.

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