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Cities adapting to climate change: Penrith plans ahead to beat the heat

Penrith City Council, climate change, heat
Phoenix Reserve Erskine Park with water play facilities and shade covering

Penrith in Western Sydney is feeling the heat of climate change and the urban heat island effect. But Penrith City Council is already reducing climate change impacts and driving down the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.

While urban heat and a changing climate is a challenge felt across Sydney, a Penrith City Council spokesman told The Fifth Estate that  Western Sydney is “particularly prone to its impacts”.

As part of its Cooling the City strategy, adopted in 2015, the council worked with the UTS Institute of Sustainable Futures to identify the suburbs experiencing the most extreme heat, using satellite thermal imagery. This was matched with data about residents’ age disabilities and chronic illness to identify the degree of vulnerability of residents, and their locations.    

Council used this information to set priorities for planning projects and initiatives to mitigate urban heat.

Canopy cover a key concern

The council identified increasing canopy cover as a key opportunity, especially in established suburbs that are more likely to house vulnerable residents.

Actions deliver more shade have planting close to 100,000 trees in South Penrith and Emu Plains in October 2017, giving 4300 plants to families with children at local childcare centres under the One Tree Per Child program, and developing learning resources to engage children with the benefits of trees and how they shape urban spaces. Thousands of trees and plants have also been given away at local community events. 

“Residents receive information on how to care for their plant, the benefit of trees and plants, and how this work is part of broader work being undertaken to Cool the City,” the spokesman said.

Greening transport routes

Open space corridors have been identified as a way to combine active transport routes and greening since the Penrith Accessible Trails Hierarchy Strategy (PATHS) was adopted in 2012. It has positioned council to integrate the NSW Government Architect’s Sydney Green Grid principles into the local area.

Influencing development

The council has also recognised its ability to influence development.

Penrith city council tree giveaway

Tree Giveaways at the REAL Festival

“There is an opportunity for councils and state government to work together to improve planning controls for new developments and individual properties that more adequately address the challenges of climate change and urban heat,” the spokesman said.

It is leading by example. Designs of new or significantly renovated council facilities or must focus on sustainability.

The first building delivered under the new policy, the Jordan Springs Community Hub, features cross laminated timber construction, passive cooling, highly efficient insulation and glazing, solar panels, energy efficient fittings and lighting, and landscaping that includes light coloured surfaces and green cover.

“All of these actions help to make this facility more efficient and significantly lower climate change related emissions in both construction and operations.”

Engaging residents

Penrith City Council is conscious of the role its assets play in providing affordable, family-friendly heat refuges to locals and boosting community resilience to heat extremes. These facilities include its public swimming pools and public libraries.

Residents are also taking-up the energy efficiency challenge, with council providing information via its website, workshops and events.

“We recently held two solar and energy information nights which were incredibly popular and well attended,” the spokesman said.

Better bus shelters

In conjunction with UTS and three other Western Sydney Councils, Penrith coordinated a design competition for a “climate adapted people shelter” that would reduce the impacts of urban heat on people waiting for busses.

The winning design features an extended roof panel for increased shade cover, insulated roof panels, integrated solar panels, LED lighting, and an open design that promotes cross-flow ventilation and expels heat. The first prototype was installed opposite the Nepean Hospital. UTS ISF researchers found its ceiling roof temperature was up to 15 degrees Celsius cooler than an adjacent conventional bus shelter and ambient temperatures were up to four degrees Celsius cooler.

“The new shelter has received positive feedback from users who have reported a much greater level of thermal comfort.”

The council is now looking at integrating some of the key features into its bus shelter program.

Penrith city council

Next steps

As a member of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, Penrith is working through a series of actions, including recently completing a city-wide emissions inventory.

“The next step in the process is to establish a city-wide emissions reduction target which will lead to the development of an action plan incorporating both mitigation and adaptation actions,” the spokesman said.

Work has already begun. Over the 2017-2018 financial year council installed 11 new solar PV installations across its facilities. It now has 35 installations which, together, generate more than 300 kilowatts.

It is also as an ongoing program to make its assets more energy efficient. This has included replacing inefficient fixtures and tracking building performance to identify anomalies to investigate.

Penrith also replaced more than 200 street lights with LEDs as stage one of the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils’ Light Years Ahead project. The Project won a Green Globe award and the council is now looking towards stage 2.

This is one of a series of Fifth Estate articles on how local governments are making positive changes to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Feel free to suggest a city council that has really engaged with these challenges and opportunities to willow@thefifthestate.com.au

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