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Push for stricter sustainability standards

By David Schout

Developers would be subject to tighter environmental building standards under a new council plan to keep the City of Melbourne “competitive” while helping it reach zero net emissions by 2040.

Under the proposal put to the Minister for Planning Richard Wynne, new buildings would be required to meet stricter energy efficiency standards while including other provisions such as bicycle parking and electric vehicle charging points.

The council, which last year declared a “climate emergency”, has committed to zero net emissions by 2040.

Buildings contribute around two-thirds of emissions within the city and the current sustainability standards for developers are insufficient for it to reach its goal.

The council’s chair of planning Cr Nicholas Reece noted the council’s 2040 pledge meant it “had to take action”.

“We do know that buildings contribute to over 60 per cent of emissions in this city,” he said at the September 15 Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting.

“We also know that it makes good sense to make better and more efficient buildings which will also create living and working environments which are healthy, light-filled and not expensive to run.”

New buildings of more than 5000 sqm would be required, at a minimum, to reach a five-star green standard rating, while six-star would be “preferred”.

Cr Reece said cities around the world like London and Portland and even Australian cities like Sydney were “well ahead” of Melbourne when it came to environmentally friendly design standards.

He said while some developers and investors had reached and even exceeded green star standards in recent years, it was not enough.

“This is still very much not the norm, hence the need for clear, certain standards which will build on previous policy,” Cr Reece said.

Developers would be encouraged to invest in things like solar panels, green roofs and walls, and energy-efficient materials for greater insulation.

Architects and developers would be able to measure their green credentials with the council’s bespoke “Green Factor Tool”, which was also endorsed on September 15.

Tributes were paid to outgoing Greens councillor Cathy Oke for her work on the tool, which she first proposed back in 2009.

Docklands as a “living lab”

One Docklands-based candidate in this month’s council elections agreed that Melbourne lagged behind many other cities.

Dr Janette Corcoran, who is running as a candidate for the Residents First group on October 24, is an apartment living expert with a focus on sustainability, said the city had a way to go.

“It is an area that needs to be looked at holistically,” she said.

“The only way to overcome a lot of the challenges we have is through improved design. I don’t think anyone is speaking against it — it’s really about how we’re going to do that, rather than should we.”

Dr Corcoran believed the council could progress sustainability a step further and make Docklands a “living lab” for high-rise sustainability research.

She believed the local area would be the perfect urban living lab, which refers to a real-world setting for research and experimentation (as opposed to a traditional laboratory).

The city of Darwin, for example, is a living lab to test the effectiveness of heat mitigation in tropical urban design.

Docklands’ array of high-rise buildings, according to Dr Corcoran, would be an ideal area to test — on scale — its relationship with things like energy and waste.

“Docklands is really suitable for this,” she said.

“It’s compact, it actually has buildings of different ages — quite new buildings to ones approaching 25 years old — has accessible owners’ corporations (OCs) and community, people are engaging and there’s a local network, and also on our doorstep we have knowledge sector, with RMIT and the University of Melbourne. What it takes is actually bringing those elements together, and I’m suggesting the methodology to doing that is a living lab.”

Research would not be a “one-off thing”, but ongoing according to Dr Corcoran, and something that could become a drawcard for the area, “to bring people here for a purpose”.

More than 80 per cent of residents in the City of Melbourne lived in apartments, but Dr Corcoran said it was still a misunderstood way of life.

“It’s a mainstream way of living now but it’s not appreciated,” she said.

“COVID (cases) in high-rises evidenced this; it’s not really understood by many decision-makers. They’re not houses turned on their side.”

Naturally, the idea would require buy-in from several different parties, one of which is the council she will be running for this month.

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