Mark Taylor Principal - Built Environment Sustainability

Author – Mark Taylor Principal – Built Environment Sustainability

Design WA has been launched as a draft for comment. It’s an opportunity for people concerned with the way sustainability is considered in the planning process to have a say and help to get the settings right for the next generation of development in Western Australia.

Josh Byrne & Associates (JBA) has been working with WA Department of Planning on the recently released Apartment Design Policy, which will replace (in part) existing R-Codes. The policy is part of Design WA (formerly the ‘Planning Reform for Better Design’) initiative.

You can download the proposed new policy here:

Design WA – For a Better Built Environment

JBA encourages our peers to have a close look at the draft documentation and make comment. This proposed revision of the planning process for multi-residential buildings has the potential to be an important step forwards, and a foundation for wider reaching reform of the way design is incorporated into development in WA. The NSW SEPP65 on which Design WA has, to some degree, been modelled has had a real impact on design and performance standards for multi-residential development in that state.

Principles of sustainability are in play throughout the Draft Apartment Design policy, but most overtly in the energy efficiency, and water management and conservation sections: 4.20 and 4.21. The following are some key elements of those sections.

The Sustainability Report

The Draft proposes formalising the idea of a ‘Sustainability Report’, to be a standard element of all Development Application submissions. This report will have a standardised format so that it can provide a consistent input to the design review process. The intention is that the performance ambitions of the development, particularly surrounding energy and water efficiency, are presented in a familiar way to the design review panels.

For smaller projects a simple checklist format is proposed, while larger projects are expected to explain how they are targeting proposed benchmarks for performance. There is flexibility for projects to explain circumstances that impact performance, and what measures have been taken to meet the overall intention of the policy.

The benchmarks and the cut-off between large and small projects requires consideration – feedback from industry will be crucial in ensuring that these are both achievable and, at the same time, sufficiently ambitious to drive improvement.

Energy Benchmark

The starting point for energy is an improvement on the minimum requirements of Section J of the National Construction Code. Smaller projects are required to state the NatHERS rating that they are targeting. Larger projects must provide more detail on how they intend to achieve a 25% improvement on minimum compliance with Section J.

Water Benchmark

Water efficiency is benchmarked against the “Perth total per capita consumption” figure published in Water Corporation’s annual reports. At present there is a lack of reliable reference figures or even data available on residential water consumption in WA. There are several research projects which may address this lack of data as results are published. JBA is actively engaging with Water Corporation and the Department of Water to develop a more comprehensive baseline for the state but, for now, the annual report figure seems to be all we have. Based on water performance from a range of projects reviewed, a reduction target of 40% is proposed. This may sound steep but, because the Perth per capita figure contains a large amount of non-residential water use (it is essentially the total scheme water delivered divided by the population), we believe this is not an onerous benchmark. We look forward to a robust discussion on this.

NOTE: The best known recent study of household water use in WA is a 2008/09 report by the Department of Water. Comparing to Water Corporation reporting for that period, individual water consumption looks to be at least 30% below the published ‘per capita’ figure.  Using Water Corp’s 2016 annual report, the 40% improvement benchmark equates to targeting scheme water consumption of 77.4kL per person for a development. We’d appreciate hearing back from people on how this sits against your recent projects.

The NSW approach relies on the Building Sustainability Index (BASIX) tool for assessment of energy and water performance. BASIX is yet to be adopted in WA, hence the alternative approaches to benchmarking outlined above. We understand that a BASIX-WA has been in discussion between state departments and may form part of a future revision of Design WA.

A notable absence: Carbon emissions are not directly addressed. The energy section is a proxy for addressing operational emissions most directly associated with the building design. Embodied emissions are touched on in the sustainability checklist but there is no benchmark set. The NSW apartment design guidelines and BASIX are more-or-less silent on embodied emissions and energy.

An understated aspect of this proposed new policy is perhaps its most exciting principle: That the familiar codes and standards are intended as a minimum – developers should be targeting something much better than that. A development that is targeting ‘compliance’ is performing as poorly as is allowed under the regulations – not something of which to be proud. The community must live with development outcomes and has a right to demand best practice. This policy is full of considered guidance to enable projects to deliver best practice and to be part of creating a more sustainable built environment.

Please take the time to review and comment on the proposed policies.

Mark Taylor is JBA’s Principal – Built Environment Sustainability. For more information on Mark go to our Team Page or call JBA on (08) 9433 3721.