The Tallarook Mechanics Institute Hall.

By Colin MacGillivray

MITCHELL Shire environment and energy groups have praised a proposed new council policy guiding sustainable building design as a step in the right direction.

At last month’s Mitchell Shire Council ordinary meeting councillors voted to place a draft environmentally sustainable design, ESD, policy for council buildings on display for public comment.

The policy forms parts of council’s target of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 by ensuring all council-owned buildings and facilities are ‘planned, designed, built or retrofitted to achieve the highest level of environmentally sustainable design’.

The policy includes minimum building standards to be implemented in any council project and specifies that any projects costing $10 million or more must meet Green Building Council Australia’s six-star Green Star certification.

Major projects of between $6 and $10 million must meet five-star certification, while projects of less than $6 million must meet four-star certification.

While BEAM Mitchell Environment Group president Peter Lockyer said all council buildings should meet six-star requirements, he believed the draft policy was a positive step for council.

“What has been a problem in the past in talking about … environmentally sustainable design is invariably that if it runs over budget, the sustainability features like extra insulation or smarter design or a little bit of expense here or there is chopped out and we end up with sheds,” he said.

“The council is full of sheds, and with energy prices going up and the council not rolling out renewable energy like it should, these are really expensive to run.

“The policy is really good in what I see as embedding across the whole council in new buildings and upgrades the highest level of a nationally recognised standard for efficiency.”

Mr Lockyer said the policy showed council was looking ahead to the future.

“There’s a longer-term thinking, which there hasn’t been with council in the past. In the past councils have been about the lowest cost and often you’ll end up with a cheap product,” he said.

“They’ve identified things like the highest star rating for whitegoods being worth the investment. You’re paying more now, but it delivers benefits in performance and energy consumption for many more years.”

Mr Lockyer said long-term sustainability measures by council could have positive effects for all ratepayers.

“If rooftop solar was a reality on all large buildings then every occupant that works there could have an electric car they could charge while at work. Moreland council in Melbourne already does that,” he said.

“There’s a ratepayer service where the shire could roll out renewables, because at the moment rooftop solar is so cheap and battery prices are coming down while reliability is going up.

“There’s that potential of council being a net energy exporter. If it was to provide that to ratepayers at no cost it’s a fantastic ratepayer benefit.”

In a statement, Mitchell Community Energy described the draft policy as a welcome announcement said it had ‘been urging our local government for many years to look longer and aim higher in the procurement of new buildings, and in the upgrade of existing stock’.

“In past council buildings procurement practices, if ESD was included in the brief for a building, it was the first area to face the axe if the budget was blown when quotes were received,” the statement read.

“Council now acknowledges that this is actually wasteful short-term thinking.

“The recent council-community engagement with the new Tallarook Mechanics Institute embraced ESD thinking from the outset, and this by-and-large permeated through to the built hall, and illustrates the bigger thinking.”

Councillors signalled their approval of the draft policy and encouraged members of the public to read it and provide feedback.

“I think this is a really important document and a great step forward for council to cement some environmentally sustainable design principles in all our buildings in the future,” Cr Louise Bannister said.

“It’s a great step … in ensuring our buildings are sustainable and will last the distance.”

Cr Nathan Clark said the draft ESD was ‘a great step towards regenerative design’.

“By putting in place minimum standards, it lifts overall standards,” he said.

“You have to think about where we’re heading. We want to be able to reduce damage to natural or sensitive sites and reduce the need for new infrastructure.

“We want to reduce the impacts on natural features and site ecology during construction, reduce the potential environmental damage from emissions … reduce contribution to global environmental damage, [and] reduce resource usage in energy, water and materials.”

People can view the draft policy and provide feedback by visiting engagingmitchellshire.com/council-buildings-policy.

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