20 March 2019

Greens push plan to combat Canberra's apartment 'saunas'

| Ian Bushnell
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Canberra’s housing needs to adapt to the changing climate, say the Greens.

The ACT Greens are turning up the heat on the Government to take more action so the Territory can cope better with the debilitating effects of climate change, particularly soaring summer temperatures that left new apartments uninhabitable.

On Tuesday (19 March) they tabled a petition in the Legislative Assembly calling for the planting of more than 7000 trees a year. Yesterday (20 March) the Greens put forward a motion in the Assembly to ensure that newer homes are better designed and built for warming summer temperatures.

The Greens are calling on the Government to deliver an action plan that would bring ACT planning rules for apartments up to at least NSW standards and expand an existing review of the minimum ‘EER’ building standards for new buildings to make sure that apartments are designed for a hotter climate.

They also want new public housing, which is often home to vulnerable older Canberrans at high risk from heat, to be better designed, and consider expanding the Energy Efficiency Improvement Scheme to cover more options that would keep Canberrans cool in heatwaves.

The Greens also believe the monitoring of building quality should be improved.

They called on the Government to release a draft Territory Plan Variation to implement these changes for community consultation by the end of March 2020, with the action plan delivered to the Assembly by the last sitting day in October.

Greens planning spokesperson Caroline Le Couteur said the number one horror story for her was from a friend renting a new apartment that recorded a temperature of 34 C when according to the weather bureau the outside temperature was only 24 C.

“It failed its first summer. He had every bit of ventilation he could have, he’d bought a couple of fans, but he was tenant so he wasn’t in a position to put in air conditioning,” she said.

She had spoken to other people in new apartments who could not keep them cool enough to be habitable, even if they had air conditioners.

“This is a public policy failure. We have to build our new dwellings in a way that is going to work for the future climate not just for the past climate,” she said.

Ms Le Couteur said both the energy ratings and energy efficiency scheme systems needed to be overhauled and buildings needed to include external shading, allow for cross ventilation and adopt passive design principles.

“The climate is warming – summers are getting hotter – and heatwaves are happening more often, and are hotter, for longer. Yet apartments and townhouses are being built that are far too warm in the heat, despite their claimed energy efficiency,” she said.

“When the city swelters, we shouldn’t have Canberrans—including vulnerable older people, public housing tenants, and children—living in blisteringly hot homes that are like saunas in summer.

“While the current energy efficiency rating (EER) system has improved Canberra’s dwellings in the winter, it is clearly inadequate to ensure new apartments are liveable and safe during heatwaves. We also know that builders sometimes don’t build to the EER standard required by their Building Approval.”

But Labor and Liberal MLAs watered down the Greens motion and no deadlines were set.

“Buildings built now will still be standing in 2050, yet the major parties can’t seem to get it together to prevent Canberra homes from becoming practically unliveable. At a time when the climate is already in crisis, this is no time for delay,” Ms Le Couteur said.

“This was a real opportunity to show leadership, and both the major parties have bungled it.”

Earlier this year the Greens urged the Government to urgently plant an extra 7000 trees a year to reverse the decline of trees in the capital, and to begin restoring the city’s urban tree canopy. This followed a recent Question on Notice put to City Services Minister Chris Steel which found that street and park trees in established suburbs are declining by around 3000 a year.

In a recent submission to the Government’s Housing Choices review, the Greens called for a new planning rule to be introduced that protects a percentage of each residential block for trees and gardens.

A recent report on the urban heat island effect in Canberra found that Canberra neighbourhoods with tree canopy shade of 30 per cent or more can be up to 13oC cooler on a hot summer day.

Last summer Canberra experienced its longest run of days above 40 degrees.


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