Context

Increasing population and density in our cities is putting pressure on services in an era where climate change is a paramount concern. Built-form is becoming more intense with hard infrastructure and pavement replacing previous natural environments, producing negative consequences: reducing the area for habitats to flourish, increasing the urban heat island effect, preventing natural stormwater management, and detaching people from nature.

Green infrastructure is considered an important response to partially address these issues and is a vital element contributing to a liveable city.

Green infrastructure, in the context of buildings, generally includes green roofs, walls and facades.

Green roof – A vegetated landscape built up from a series of layers that are installed on a roof surface. The layers include a growing substrate generally 200mm deep or more, in addition to support and drainage layers.

Green wall – Comprises plants grown in a supported vertical system, generally attached to an internal or external wall but can also be freestanding. They include multiple ‘containerised’ plantings to create vegetation cover.

Green façade – Created by growing climbing plants up and across the façade of a building, either from plants grown in garden beds at its base or by container planting installed at various levels across the building. [1]

Illustration: Growing Green Guide – Green roof, facade and wall

Although the benefits and importance of Green Infrastructure are well known, the uptake and implementation of such infrastructure in new developments is not as high as one would hope. To identify possible barriers and the process involved in promoting green infrastructure, we conducted a short survey of three Councils. The results of which are discussed further below.

Benefits of green infrastructure

Green roofs and walls provide a wide range of environmental, economic and social benefits, both public and private. The benefits can relate to tangible results that can be measured or valued in monetary terms; many, however, are ecosystem services that may not produce a direct monetary gain but provide significant indirect benefits. Green infrastructure:

  • Provides an ecological system and habitat for wildlife and insects.
  • Assists in stormwater retention and reuse.
  • Provides an open space area for occupiers of a building.
  • Provides an area to grow food.
  • Reconnects people with nature, better known as Biophilic design.
  • Assists in addressing the urban heat island effect.
  • Assists in cleaning the polluted air.
  • Increase the thermal performance of the building level below the roof.
  • Increases the value of a building.
  • Increases the health of citizens and thus, reduces medical costs.

The Growing Green Guide [2] provides a succinct summary of the benefits:

Green infrastructure & planning

Green infrastructure in new development is not mandatory within the Victorian planning process; Councils have little ability or policy support to require it. Generally, it is left to the discretion of the developer to include in their proposal.

Communal open space is now a requirement for new apartment buildings where 40 or more dwellings should provide a minimum area of 2.5 square metres per dwelling or 250 square metres, whichever is lesser [3]. This may provide additional incentive to provide green roofs in new developments, however there is no guarantee these spaces will offering substantial greenery rather than tokenistic planting around decked areas.

Many local Councils have an Environmentally Sustainable Development (ESD) policy which requires a response to urban ecology, objectives of which are:

  • To protect and enhance biodiversity within the municipality.
  • To provide environmentally sustainable landscapes and natural habitats, and minimise the urban heat island effect.
  • To encourage the retention of significant trees.
  • To encourage the planting of indigenous vegetation.
  • To encourage the provision of space for productive gardens, particularly in larger residential developments.[4]

The implementation of this policy is often challenged by developers [5] but is gradually becoming an accepted part of the planning process. As the policy does not include mandatory requirements for green infrastructure in new buildings, it is not always possible to use it to achieve that purpose.

A snapshot of the current process – Survey

The survey

To establish how green infrastructure is being included in development through planning permit applications, we surveyed three Council’s which are part of Council Alliance for a Sustainable Built Environment (CASBE) and have adopted local planning policy for ESD; Whitehorse City Council, City of Yarra, and Moreland City Council.

The survey was undertaken via an online survey tool between 21 July 2017 and 1 August 2017.

A total of six respondents undertook the survey within the three Councils. Respondents covered two positions which are likely to have exposure to developments incorporating green infrastructure; ESD Officer/Engineer and Principal Urban Planner.

A total of 11 questions were asked; including multiple choice and open-ended questions.

The Results

Question 1

Question 2

If you answered yes, please identify how it is recommended and at what stage/stages in the process?

How it is recommended:

  • Pre-apps / advice about policies (ESD policy, BADS, Moreland Apartment Design Code)
  • General recommendation to all applicants
  • Recommended to include at planning – raingardens to meet WSUD requirements, green roofs for larger projects
  • When raising issues at the stage of requesting further information.

What stage it is recommended:

  • Pre-app and ‘issues’ stage for large developments
  • Pre-application, preliminary issues at further information request
Question 3

Question 4

Question 5

If you answered yes, please identify what type/types of development and why it is required?

Type of Development:

  • Very large development (i.e. 8+ stories)
  • Typically for large multi-unit residential projects

Why it is required:

  • A much larger development would expect much better ESD outcomes such as green roofs.
  • No other way to meet Urban Ecology requirements.
Question 6

Please rate the possible barriers preventing applicants from including green infrastructure in their developments.

Question 7

What form of evidence does Council require to ensure the green infrastructure is feasible, will be constructed correctly, and will be maintained? 

  • Minimal – a landscape plan and that is it.
  • Section diagrams, detail in landscape and building drawings. Look for reference of the Growing Green Guide. If the Green Infrastructure feature(s) look particularly large and ambitious, or not well presented then we will develop specific Conditions on Planning Permit to address any of these deficiencies.
  • Nothing.
  • Specifications on a landscape plan
  • Usually not scrutinized.
Question 8

What information should an applicant provide to Council in a management/maintenance plan?

  • Something that shows that the design & maintenance process has been thought through.
  • A lot of detail.
  • Currently not required, but should be prepared by landscape architect, possibly included in Building User Guide too.
  • Irrigation, replacement planting, etc.
Question 9

Do you have any suggestions as to how green infrastructure could be implemented in more developments in the future?

  • In suburbs or regions with heat island issues.
  • The statutory requirements are enhanced. Information about the benefits for developers are spread. Maintenance details are more general and widely distributed.
  • Reduce costs, increase information of the benefits to developers.
  • Increase requirements for green roofs on large builds, provide guidance to assist designers and applicants realise benefits to value proposition.
  • Most developers will only include green infrastructure if planning provisions compel them to do so.

The Survey Findings

The survey identified a possible knowledge gap within the planning and development industry as to the purpose and value of green infrastructure.

It also highlighted the lack of consistency between Councils with regard to when green infrastructure is required, what level of detail should be provided on application plans and whether or not it is actually recommended to applicants as a design option.

Green facades are often included on planning drawings with little detail relating to their planting, irrigation or maintenance. Anecdotal evidence has shown that poorly constructed green facades has created a level of scepticism within Councils as to the actual outcome that will be achieved when constructed.

A very important observation from the survey results is the lack of policy support to mandate green infrastructure on new builds. Stipulating such infrastructure without strong policy opens Councils to criticism and overturn at VCAT.

Conclusions

The benefits of including green infrastructure in new buildings are undisputed, however the inclusion of green walls, roofs and facades is somewhat limited. This trend may be partially addressed in the City of Melbourne where the council have created a $1.2 million Urban Forest Fund, which it will use to match private investments in urban greening initiatives dollar-for-dollar.

The survey identified there is a knowledge gap within the planning and development industry with regard to the concept of green infrastructure, and its’ implementation, its purpose and benefits, and the information required to demonstrate a suitable and feasible green infrastructure response. Additionally, there is scepticism within Councils whether or not elements proposed at planning stage will actually be built and successfully maintained – highlighting the ongoing enforcement problem in our building and planning industry.

A significant amount of land in our cities is privately owned, meaning greening our urban areas cannot be left to Councils and public authorities – developers need to be active in this space. We need to create better education as to the benefits of green infrastructure, both economically and environmentally, as well as strengthen our policy for land redevelopment.

Green infrastructure should be a consideration in the early stages of a development proposal; it should not be left as an after-thought at the end of the planning permit process.

Actions to increase the uptake of green infrastructure include:

  • Councils should continue to work together to be collectively more robust about the information they require from applicants and what buildings should incorporate green infrastructure. They should work across regions that have similar development pressure and built-form outcomes.
  • Increase knowledge and awareness within the planning and development industry as to the benefits to be gained from including green infrastructure.
  • Councils to provide technical assistance to permit applicants and developers, similar to that provided by the City of Chicago.
  • Introduce new and robust planning requirements which mandate green infrastructure for certain building types, such as that implemented in the cities of Toronto and Copenhagen.
  • Reduce property tax for buildings that include green infrastructure, similar to New York City.
  • Provide a rebate program or reduce stormwater fees such as that implemented in Washington D.C.
  • Allow for trade-offs within the planning process, for example by allowing an additional storey to a development where it responds positively to green infrastructure / ESD, a policy already in action in the City of Chicago.

 

Resources / Additional Reading

 

References

[1] Growing Green Guide, State of Victoria through the Department of Environment and Primary Industries 2014 Page 5 – 7

[2] Growing Green Guide, State of Victoria through the Department of Environment and Primary Industries 2014 Page 8

[3] Planning Scheme Clause 58.03-2

[4] Clause 22.08 Moreland Planning Scheme

[5] CASBE Information Sheet 1: http://www.mav.asn.au/policy-services/planning-building/casbe/Documents/CASBE%20planning%20information%20sheet%201%20-%20SDAPP%20at%20VCAT%20-%20Nov%202016.pdf