Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD) in Planning

There is a strong demand for more sustainable apartments with energy efficiency rated 5th out of 14 criteria in the Victorian Government’s Better Apartments consultation[i]. Other top categories include Daylight, Natural Ventilation, Noise and Sunlight which are all components of Internal Environmental Quality addressed by ESD planning policies.

Late in 2015 six Melbourne councils amended their planning schemes to include compulsory sustainability assessment for most developments and some extensions. Lack of direction from the Victorian government and rapid development motivated these municipalities to develop a holistic planning policy to lift the environmental performance of developments.

Sue Vujcevic Moreland City Council manager of Strategy and Design explains the need for this policy:

“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”[ii].

Benefits of ESD in Planning

Previous City of Port Phillip mayor Amanda Stevens said:

“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,”[iii]

For a small multi-unit residential development, there could be a return of almost $5 for every $1 invested in ESD. A couple living in a small 90 square metres apartment, for example, could save about $285 per year over 25 years from energy and water savings alone. If they owned the apartment, it would also appreciate in value faster and earn more as a rental[iv].

With a rapid increase in the cost of utilities and climate change modelling predicting more extreme heat events in the future, sustainable design cushions residents against future shocks.

Assessment of ESD policy

In late 2013 a Joint Panel and Advisory Committee (PAC) considered the ESD policy concurrently submitted by six Melbourne councils. Its findings, released in April 2014, stated that there is a role and statutory obligation for planning to advance sustainability[v].

The PAC found that “planning is best suited to deal with the ‘big picture’ upfront issues, whereas building is best suited to managing the detailed aspects” and focusing on sustainability during the planning process “enables the orientation, internal layouts and site development to be dealt with in a manner that may assist at the building approval stage in achieving the best design outcome”[vi].

While large development advocates claimed that this policy would increase the cost of housing the panel found that what upfront costs may be incurred would more than be made up throughout the buildings life time and the policy would have positive cost benefits for the community.

Aims of the ESD policy

The focus of the policy is to achieve best practice rather than set out inflexible criteria to be met. The Joint Councils preferred definition was adopted, which states best practice is:

“A combination of commercially proven techniques, methodologies and systems appropriate to the scale of development and site specific opportunities and constraints, which are demonstrated and locally available and have already led to optimum ESD [ecologically sustainable development] outcomes. Best practice in the built environment encompasses the full life of the build”[vii].

The policy covers ten categories:

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

These criteria are addressed through a new online assessment tool BESS [link to about page] (Built Environment Sustainability Assessment). Qualified BESS professionals trained in this software tool ensure that developments are awarded the highest score possible. As building form becomes more complex the assessment process scales in proportion requiring more detailed data and nuanced understanding of sustainability assessment.

The Current and Future Direction of ESD in Planning

The first round Councils’ ESD policies were introduced under the following planning scheme amendments:

  • Banyule Planning Scheme – Amendment C73
  • Moreland Planning Scheme – Amendment C71
  • Stonnington Planning Scheme – Amendment C177
  • Whitehorse Planning Scheme – Amendment C130
  • Yarra Planning Scheme – Amendment C133
  • Port Phillip Scheme- Amendment C97

Darebin Council resolved to prepare ESD Local Planning Policy at its meeting on 7 December 2015, and Manningham at its 15 December meeting. Submissions are open until the 16th of March.

Policy ‘expiry’ clauses – in the event of equivalent State-wide ESD provisions being introduced into planning schemes are included. This reflects the findings of the PAC and preference of local councils for stronger and higher guidance in the State Planning Policy Framework and Clause 65[viii].


[i] http://www.thefifthestate.com.au/politics/inquiries-and-submissions/sustainability-and-quality-top-wish-list-for-victorian-apartments/79910

[ii] http://www.thefifthestate.com.au/products-services/rating-tools/councils-take-lead-in-sustainable-building-design-after-state-failure/73685

[iii] http://www.thefifthestate.com.au/products-services/rating-tools/councils-take-lead-in-sustainable-building-design-after-state-failure/73685

[iv] http://www.enviroehub.com.au/articles/new-planning-policy-sets-scene-sustainable-future

[v] Advisory committee supports councils approach to ESD and planning [online]. Planning News, Vol. 40, No. 5, Jun 2014: 12. Availability: <http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=526428520592532;res=IELBUS> ISSN: 1329-2862. [cited 26 Feb 16].

[vi] https://www.maddocks.com.au/uncategorized/councils-leading-way-sustainable-development/

[vii] https://www.maddocks.com.au/uncategorized/councils-leading-way-sustainable-development/

[viii] Advisory committee supports councils approach to ESD and planning [online]. Planning News, Vol. 40, No. 5, Jun 2014: 12. Availability: <http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=526428520592532;res=IELBUS> ISSN: 1329-2862. [cited 26 Feb 16].

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