Friday, March 1, 2024

Western Sydney councils hot under collar over urban heat

The Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC) is urging NSW Premier, Dominic Perrottet and Labor leader, Chris Minns, to take action to tackle Western Sydney’s worsening ‘urban heat island’ crisis.

Urban heat islands occur when cities replace natural land cover with dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat.

“The Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC) is calling for an urgent overhaul of NSW’s state planning policies to address the ‘urban heat island’ problem,” said WSROC President, Councillor Barry Calvert.

The economic and health costs of ‘urban heat islands’ and ‘heat stress’ are increasingly impacting Western Sydney, said Cr Calvert.

“Western Sydney – which will be home to four million people by 2041 – is particularly exposed to heat due to its geography and weather patterns, including the prevalence of hot westerly winds and lack of cooling sea breezes,” he said.

“Urban heat islands — created by poorly planned development — are amplifying our naturally hot climate and impacting human health as well as driving up household energy bills.”

“WSROC is asking whoever forms government after the 25 March elections to urgently update the NSW State Environmental Planning Policies (SEPPs) and Development Control Plans (DCPs) to address urban heat.”

State Significant and Complying Development SEPPs are used to fast-track approvals for new housing estates, industrial buildings, building demolitions, and changes to a business uses.

Around half of Western Sydney’s residential development is approved via State Significant and Complying Development SEPPs and growth centre DCPs.

“At present, most of our state planning policies and plans do not address urban heat at all,” said Cr Calvert.

WSROC President, Councillor Barry Calvert.

“This is astonishing considering that extreme heat events in Australia are our worst natural hazard for human deaths, except for disease epidemics.

“Heat is also placing significant strain on household budgets, community services, and essential infrastructure — including energy grids, hospitals, and transport networks.

“There is an urgent need for the government to reform State Significant and Complying Development SEPPs, and growth centre DCPs to include heat resilience measures.

“Western Sydney is urbanising rapidly, with an associated increase in hard surfaces and decreasing vegetation cover, both of which make the ‘urban heat island’ effect worse.”

He said even simple measures such as banning dark roofs, altering street layouts, and increasing tree canopy cover would make a significant difference.

“There are many other innovative ways in which we can reduce the impacts of urban heat and improve the quality of life in Western Sydney.”

“Such impacts are expected to substantially increase with climate change as extreme heat becomes more severe, and heatwaves become more frequent and last longer, making reform of planning instruments more urgent.

“If we don’t get this stuff sorted now, we will need to spend vast amounts of money on retrofits down the track, to ensure suburbs remain liveable in 20 years.”

WSROC has been working with Western Sydney councils to update local planning by developing science-backed guidance for councils’ own Local Environment Plans and Development Control Plans, Cr Calvert said.

“We are inviting the NSW Government to work with WSROC to progress heat resilience, which has emerged as a significant and growing challenge for not just Western Sydney, but for NSW and Australia as a whole,” he said.

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