Disruptive Densification: Time for our cities to grow up

How will population pressure reshape our cities and disrupt the Great Australian Dream?


As many of you here would agree - urbanisation is one of the most effective and responsible ways to address key challenges of the 21st century but we (Governments/Councils) need to get it right especially in a country like Australia with its long suburban traditions.

That means sustainable development, convenient access to employment, appropriate infrastructure, especially transport, quality open space, great community facilities, easy access to local schools and shops, a rich cultural life and development guided by the principles of design excellence.

Integrated public transport and diverse housing, including affordable rentals and accommodation for students, also need to be part of the mix.

These goals are part of our long term plan Sustainable Sydney 2030 and we've been delivering or advocating for their delivery in our major urban renewal sites - Central Park, Harold Park, Green Square and Ashmore.

Green Square

The biggest, Green Square, will have 61,000 residents, over 30,000 new homes, and 21,000 jobs by 2030. It is a $13 billion development across 278 hectares. Even though it will have Australia's highest population density we are confident of Green Square's green credentials and we are working to have the Town Centre formally registered for accreditation as a Green Star Community - which will be a first.

The City is working with UrbanGrowth and the Town Centre's developers to achieve this milestone, which is supported by the Green Building Council of Australia.

Sustainable Urban Living

Sustainability is fundamental and urgent. In the 21st century, it is simply not acceptable to redevelop large parts of our city based on power from the coal-fired grid.

We've just seen global temperatures leap in February, lifting warming from pre-industrial levels to beyond 1.5 degrees and stoking concerns of a "climate emergency".

Our target is to reduce carbon emissions by 70 per cent by 2030, and we are well on the way to achieving that.

Energy Efficiency

More than 80 per cent of our emissions come from generating the energy consumed in our buildings, so maximising their efficiency is essential.

Australia's major property owners have a well-deserved reputation as leaders in sustainability, last year we again led the Global Real Estate Benchmark, which showed Australia outperforming other regions around the world.

The City's Energy Efficiency master plan outlines cost-effective energy efficiency measures for all buildings within our area, including our own properties. It will allow us to reduce energy usage by 31 per cent by 2030, and deliver $208 million in savings.

Achieving this target means we would reduce carbon emissions by 33 per cent.

We've had success with the major owners of the commercial building sector through our Better Buildings Partnership, formed in 2011.

In just four years, their combined efforts have resulted in a $36 million saving in electricity costs and a reduction of emissions by 45 per cent.
Our focus now is encouraging the mid-tier buildings market to work with us to achieve similar targets.

Sustainable Apartments

In the City, 75 per cent of our residents live in apartments, by 2030 it will be 80 per cent.

The number of apartments is increasing, but minimum sustainability targets for new apartment buildings are much lower than for stand-alone houses.

Retrofitting buildings can be costly so it's better to include higher sustainability standards at the design stage. The BASIX target needs to be increased for apartments and houses, and we're investigating how to implement a recommendation in our Energy Efficient Masterplan to include a minimum NABERs rating in our planning controls for new commercial buildings.

In the meantime, we've developed a Residential Apartments Sustainability Plan that aims to reduce emissions by 40 per cent, water consumption by 7 per cent and divert 70 per cent of waste from landfill.

As we've seen in the commercial property sector, buildings with improved green standards are more attractive to new owners and residents who demand reduced operating costs and better environmental performance.

Regulatory Barriers

Like many other global cities we're working to facilitate decentralised renewable and low carbon energy within our city, but unfortunately we're held back in Australia because of national policy and rule changes, and restrictive and out-dated electricity market rules.

So instead we're installing tri-generation for our buildings that are 'behind the meter' and do not need to export to the grid - our Town Hall, indoor pools and in a private network within the Green Square urban renewal area.

And we are part of an unprecedented coalition of government, business and environmental groups currently applying to change the energy market rules to unlock the potential of decentralised energy.

We've teamed up with the Property Council and Total Environment Centre to ask for a rule change for cost-reflective network charges that reflect the economic value of local energy.

The UK has already implemented this rule, and we want to follow their lead as it will increase the financial return for local energy projects, making the electricity network more efficient and lowering electricity prices for all consumers over time.

Paris Climate Change Summit - a New Agreement

Late last year, I joined over 1000 delegates at the Paris Climate Change Summit which resulted in a truly historic agreement from world leaders to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees.

City staff are currently revising our environmental strategy to ensure it's consistent with the Paris agreement and we hope to have that endorsed by Council later this year.

When we first set our target of 70 per cent, we set interim targets to help keep us on track and I can report that we've already met our target for this council term (2012 - 2016).

We've reduced greenhouse emissions by 26 per cent in our own operations through energy efficiency measures and renewables.

And greenhouse emissions across our Local Government Area have fallen by a massive 19 per cent at the same time as we've enjoyed a period of unprecedented economic growth.

Our carbon intensity - the amount of greenhouse emissions for each dollar of economic output - has fallen by almost 36 per cent.

We've done all this in the face of hostile right wing media, vested interests and regulatory barriers. Imagine what could be achieved with Federal and State partnerships and regulations that worked for instead of against climate action!


This speech was delivered on March 23, 2016 at the Green Cities Conference.