Climate Proofing the Planning System

Victoria's cities and regions are already feeling the effects of climate change. As the climate crisis worsens, our neighbourhoods are seeing more extreme temperatures, storms, and increased risk of natural disasters like floods and bushfires. But our planning system is lagging behind. The lack of any requirement to consider climate impacts when making planning decisions means we are still seeing too many developments that are either not fit-for-purpose for climate change, or actually make the climate crisis worse.

We urgently need to reform our planning system so that climate change is a fundamental consideration in every planning decision. 

The Greens plan includes:

Climate trigger assessments

In Victoria’s planning system, there is no requirement for planning decisions to help reduce climate change or to adapt to a changing and warmer climate. In fact, there is no reference to climate change at all in the Planning and Environment Act. The disconnect between our planning system and climate action means too many major projects and urban developments are being greenlit without any consideration of whether they increase climate change, adapt to weather extremes, increase natural disaster risk, or even if they are likely to make the climate crisis worse.

The Greens' plan would introduce mandatory climate trigger assessments for all new major projects, planning scheme amendments and planning permits. Before undertaking any development project, developers would have to ensure:

  • Projects do not contribute unnecessarily to climate change through excess pollution, reduction in open space or reduction in green spaces.
  • Projects are climate-sensitive: they should be assessed against disaster risk, and cannot exacerbate the impact of events on the area

Projects that significantly exacerbate the climate crisis or put communities at risk because of more frequent climate disaster events would not be approved.

This would also require urban heat island effect mitigation statements to be prepared as part of the assessment. The urban heat island effect occurs in built up areas with large amounts of concrete, asphalt and other surfaces that absorb heat, and with limited shade and green open space. In the summer, this contributes to heat-related illnesses and can even cause death. Under our plan urban heat island effect mitigation statements must be prepared as part of every permit application or planning scheme amendment, including how the development will increase open space and tree cover. The climate trigger assessment means that projects that increase the urban heat island effect will not be approved.

Increasing canopy cover and green space across the city

Our urban forests are an essential part of our city, and are equally important in our response to the climate crisis. Our tree-lined streets not only improve liveability and amenity for residents, but they also reduce the heat island effect and help cool our cities by providing shade and storing carbon. 

But in the city, we are losing too many of our trees. Melbourne lost 0.3 per cent of its canopy between 2014 and 2018 with disproportionately higher losses in some areas.  While some councils offer protection for significant trees, there is a lack of consistency in the level of protection across the state. Much of our canopy loss occurs on private land, where it is more difficult to monitor or prevent tree destruction.

Although the state government has a number of tree planting programs, it takes about 20 years for a new tree to return to the previous amenity level of a mature tree, on top of the significant loss to carbon capture. The planning system must do more to encourage the retention of mature trees and prevent their unnecessary destruction.

To protect and increase canopy cover the Greens' plan would:

  • Introduce stronger deterrents to prevent tree loss on private land, including by investigating a price on tree loss in all development activity. This would require developers and private lot owners to pay a fee per tree lost due to development activity on private land, based on the age, health and value of the tree, which would be directed to creating more open space and canopy cover in built up suburbs.
  • Strengthen significant tree protections through higher penalties for illegal removal. 
  • Support councils to strengthen enforcement of tree protection regulations and improve consistency in tree protection across the state.
  • Require a portion of all funds collected via the developer contributions plan to contribute to a significantly bigger scale of local street tree planting.

Creating more green and open space is also a major factor in reducing the urban heat island effect. Currently there is no minimum garden requirement for the precincts earmarked for the most intense density such as activity centres and mixed use zones. However, these precincts are experiencing more intense urban heat island warming especially during heatwaves, and the lack of minimum permeable space, maximum site coverage or minimum tree provision means many activity centres are concrete jungles. 

The Greens' plan would ensure all medium and high density precincts need to provide 20% green open space and 40% canopy cover. This would apply immediately for new zones and be phased in for new development in existing built up zones such as Sydney Road and Chapel St. Introducing a 20% green open space requirement in these areas will help cool the precinct in heatwaves and provide much needed open space for communities

Green infrastructure for residential buildings

In Victoria, the average existing home has an energy rating of  2.1 stars. While we have made improvements in environmental sustainable design (ESD) in recent years, too many of the planning system’s ESD measures are voluntary and aspirational rather than mandatory. Where they are mandatory, like the Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS), too many developers only comply with the bare minimum, and fail to implement ESD measures like solar panels, green roofs or light coloured roofs into their designs. 

The Greens' plan would ensure new mandatory ESD principles are incorporated into the statewide planning scheme, including:

  • New minimum NatHERS ratings of 8 stars, moving to 10 stars by 2030
  • Require apartment buildings of five storeys and above to provide 50% of their roof space for either solar panels or a green roof (garden)
  • Minimum garden areas are required at ground floor level in all residential zones
  • Mandatory light coloured roofs to help mitigate the urban heat island effect
  • Mandatory minimum building separations in activity centres and mixed use zones