Submission: Moreland Council Budget 2021/22

June 5, 2021 at 9:04 am Leave a comment

On Wednesday 2 June Moreland Council had it’s formal submission feedback session to Councillors over zoom on the Draft Council Budget in 2021/22. The Climate Action Moreland submission was six and a half pages in length. Convenor John Englart briefly summarised the submission for Councillors.

Our submission called for increased expenditure to address the climate emergency, and addressed issues across the following areas:

  • Infrastructure to improve uptake of Sustainable Transport
  • Street trees, in particular the maintenance and protection of trees
  • Permeable and low carbon surfaces
  • Leisure Centres (in particular Fawkner Leisure Centre redevelopment)
  • Open Space
  • Comment on other strategic initiatives in the budget, including how to Phaseout gas in council facilities

Our Convenor wasn’t quite as eloquent on Sustainable Transport as this tweet by Canadian city planner Brent Toderian made on the same day:

Submission to Draft Moreland Council Budget 2021-2022 – Submitted by Climate Action Moreland

About us

Climate Action Moreland is a grassroots community group taking action locally on the climate emergency. We lobby all levels of government for strong climate action.

Summary

In 2018, Moreland Council adopted a resolution acknowledging: “we are in a state of climate emergency that requires urgent action by all levels of government, including local Councils”.

We submit that Moreland Council needs to ensure that its budget is in keeping with this resolution. While Moreland has many policies designed to reduce carbon emissions, the funding for these measures is at best token.

In this submission we suggest a range of areas where we believe Moreland Council needs to greatly increase its budget to help Moreland residents reduce carbon emissions and to improve climate resilience. We also understand the need to balance the budget, and suggest that Moreland Council urgently re-examine its budget priorities to redirect funding from non-sustainable to sustainable infrastructure. As an example, Moreland not only allocates significant funding to roads – around twice what neighbouring Darebin allocates – but is also forecasting a substantial increase in road expenditure over the coming 5 years. Meanwhile Moreland’s expenditure for active transport remains far too low. The task of transitioning to a low-carbon, resilient community will be all the more difficult the longer that Moreland delays in switching its funding priorities.

Areas where Moreland needs greatly increase expenditure to address the climate emergency include:

  • Infrastructure to improve uptake of sustainable transport
  • Street trees, in particular the maintenance and protection of trees
  • Permeable and low carbon surfaces
  • Leisure centres
  • Open Space
  • Other strategic initiatives

Sustainable Transport

The Zero Carbon Moreland plan aims to encourage the community to use sustainable transport modes. Yet such a shift requires significant investment to overcome the barriers to using these modes. Barriers that can be addressed by local government include improving traffic safety on Council roads, building and maintaining cycling and walking paths, providing seating and increasing shade.  

Inadequate and Misrepresented Community Consultation and Engagement

We note that in the Council report of May 12, 2021: “10 Year Capital Works Programs for Pedestrians and Cyclists”, Council Officers regard the Moreland Transport Advisory Committee as the main mechanism for community consultation and engagement.

The following claim was made: “Council officers presented the draft Programs to Moreland’s Transport Advisory Committee (MTAC) in March 2021 outlining the program and methodologies used for the priorities. The MTAC members did not provide any objections to the projects and methodology.”

The convenor of Climate Action Moreland sits on MTAC. We believe that this is not a fair interpretation of concerns raised at this meeting. These concerns included:

  • The agenda item on the 10 year review of bicycle and pedestrian projects was actually only about bicycle projects. Community members had to ask why pedestrian projects were not included.
  • The pedestrian budget was far too low.
  • Council officers determine priorities without adequate community engagement.

Moreover, given the significant community concern about walking and cycling safety, and frustration that Moreland Council does not listen or respond adequately to concerns, as evidenced by commentary on community social media sites, we suggest that suburb-based community consultation be also undertaken, such as through community forums.

Walking

VERY LOW BUDGET: Most residents of Moreland walk, and there is a huge unmet need for safe walking infrastructure. Yet Moreland has allocated only $466,000 for its pedestrian capital works program in 2020/21 – about $2.50 per head. A further $1,010,000 has been allocated for streetscape projects. These improve pedestrian amenity in shopping strips, but are regarded as economic development rather than a means of addressing barriers to walking.

For comparison, Moreland is allocating $8.9 million for roads, rising to $12.7 million the following year. Indeed, the cost of resurfacing one 200 metre stretch of a minor road exceeds the pedestrian capital works budget.

Moreland needs to address this gross disparity if it is to achieve a shift to sustainable transport modes

TRAFFIC SAFETY: This is a major barrier to walking. Moreland desperately needs more traffic calming measures, street closures, safe crossings, etc. throughout the municipality. Moreland allocates a very low amount to pedestrian safety. Unsafe streets lock in high car usage.

STREETSCAPE PROJECTS: These projects improve safety and amenity for pedestrians. Such projects also include the construction of the missing footpaths in activity centres. We are concerned that some of these projects are delayed for many years due to nearby development applications or construction. In the latest budget, Moreland has deferred two major streetscape projects (total cost $2 million) in the Brunswick Activity Centre to 2023/24. One project has now been delayed for the second time. Louisa Street in Coburg has been delayed for many years.

Given that there are such frequent delays to these major projects, the overall effect over the long term is that capital expenditure is reduced. We submit that Moreland Council should have other projects in the pipeline in situations where projects need to be delayed.

SEATS: Moreland’s public seating is concentrated in shopping strips and parks. Moreland needs more seats along principal pedestrian routes and walking paths, including along our creeks. People with mobility challenges are deterred from walking due to the lack of seats. This not only has health implications but also increases car usage.

FOOTPATH MAINTENANCE: Many of Moreland’s footpaths are in a poor state, and rely on residents reporting problems. This is a barrier to walking, particularly for older residents who are at risk of falls.  Moreland clearly does not spend enough on proactive footpath maintenance. It is concerning that Moreland is planning to cut this budget in future years.

SEPARATE INFRASTRUCTURE FOR WALKING: Moreland continues to roll out shared paths for walking, cycling, scooters etc. Older pedestrians in particular are deterred from walking on these shared paths due to the fast speed of other modes. Moreland needs to ensure that pedestrians are provided with their own paths.

Cycling

Encouraging cycling is critical in shifting to sustainable transport modes. Currently only about 6% of Moreland residents cycle to work. While this is better than the Victorian average it is unacceptably low. Lack of safety is the key barrier to the uptake of cycling.

We note that the budget allocates several million for a new shared path. However, there is a pressing need for safe bicycle paths along our roads. Only $550,000 has been allocated to protected bike lanes in 2021/22, with no expenditure forecast for the following four years. We suggest a large increase in funding for protected bike lanes.

Public Transport

While insufficient public transport services (funded by state government) are a major barrier to public transport usage in some areas, Moreland could increase the usage of existing public transport by making it more accessible. Most of Moreland’s bus stops have no seats. Moreland chooses to direct money instead to bus stop shelters, very few of which are built each year. We suggest the budget be increased to ensure that seating is available at all bus stops. Moreover, more safe crossing points, including pedestrian refuges, zebra or signalised crossings need to be built on bus routes.

Street Trees

Street trees are vital in helping to address urban heat island effect and to encourage walking in the warmer months.

While Moreland can and should increase the number of street trees that it plants, we are particularly concerned about the low survival rate of street trees. This is due not only to a lack of water, but also due to damage from vehicles and vandalism, along with theft.

We urge Moreland Council to provide sufficient funds to improve the survival rate of street trees. Watering during the warmer months is critical, especially during the first years after planting. So too is the physical protection of trees: cages for new trees, and protection hoops for trees on roads.

Permeable and low carbon surfaces

Embedded carbon needs to be an important consideration for use of artificial surfaces in public and council spaces.  

Council should be using low emissions cement for all concrete surfaces such as footpaths. See Beyond Zero Emissions – Rethinking Cement, August 2017.

In highly built up streetscapes permeable pavement surfaces should be utilised around street trees to allow for water to soak into the soil. Where appropriate, rain gardens should be developed as part of the streetscape to divert stormwater.

Grass Sports Fields Reconstruction and Resurfacing

Synthetic turf use should be restricted to only where its use can be justified on triple bottom line factors of economics, social and environmental factors, with any negative impacts adequately mitigated.

Our arguments for restricted use of artificial grass are fully explained in depth in our research and literature review on synthetic turf, and include the life-cycle embedded carbon footprint, impact of microplastics, impact on biodiversity, and generation at end of life of waste to landfill. 

Use of synthetic turf should require a triple bottom line assessment business case that also assesses whether there are sustainable alternatives. (Note: our research document is an active document with both the Literature Review and annotated bibliography expanded since being submitted to Hosken Refresh and to all Councillors in a PDF version dated 27 March 2021.)

For conversion of large grass sporting fields for use by soccer, and other football codes our research found that well reconstructed, well drained fields using a drought resistant grass cultivar is a highly viable solution with few negative environmental impacts while meeting the needs for extra reasonable player capacity. 

Our research also uncovered the potential to use industrial compost to increase the soil fertility, moisture carrying capacity and drought resistance for sports turf. This would make natural grass sports turf fields more drought resilient and add to water conservation. If this could be incorporated in any upcoming sports field reconstruction, it would enhance the circular economy by Moreland reusing some of the compost generated by Moreland’s FOGO green waste collection on local sports fields. 

Council needs to seriously consider such synergies as part of its progress and commitment to implementing a circular economy.

Tennis Court resurfacing

ProjectID 18921 – Charles Mutton Reserve Tennis Court Resurface and Lighting

Upgrade of tennis court surfaces from en-tout-cas to synthetic grass for this project, and other community courts in the pipeline including Merlynston Tennis Club, Fawkner tennis club and Coburg tennis club, should be reassessed to ensure decision is based on meeting triple bottom line factors. 

There are two issues of concern here. 

The first is that it appears the decision to upgrade has been made based on cheaper annual and life-cycle costs and it being an easier surface to maintain, ignoring more difficult to ascertain externality environmental cost factors such as the embedded carbon cost of synthetic grass, microplastics pollution and end of life contribution to waste to landfill. Given the footprint size it may be possible to mitigate some of the negative environmental impacts, but this needs to be done in a transparent manner as part of the decision. 

The second, and probably more compelling concern, is the overall impact getting rid of all the en-tout-cas surfaces in community tennis courts in Moreland may have generally on the sport of tennis, noting that conversion of courts to synthetic surfaces is a trend by several municipal councils.

We note that the issues analysis of the Hosken Reserve Refresh Background report found that for the tennis surface  “Although the preferred playing surface, the en-tout-cas courts are not easy to maintain.”

Australian professional tennis player Paul McNamee advocates the importance of clay surfaces, and has just written a recently published book called ‘Welcome to the Dance. Master Clay to Master Tennis”. MacNamee is a former tournament director of the Hopman Cup and CEO of the Australian Open until 2006, and was born in Moreland. 

He argues that learning and playing on clay court surfaces gives players superior tennis skills that are transferable to other surfaces. He cites women’s tennis champion Ash Barty playing on clay courts in Brisbane in the formative part of her career as contributing to her success. 

“Hardcourt is draughts. Clay is chess. It’s the highest form of the game,’’ McNamee says. “You can bluff on a hardcourt; there’s nowhere to hide on a clay court. That’s where you learn how to play. In terms of learning the game there’s only one surface: that’s why almost 80 (74 on last week’s rankings) of the top 100 men are from Europe.’’ he said in a news article in May 2021.

A question was put to Paul McNamee via twitter on May 20: “So what are your thoughts on the growing trend to convert En Tout Cas (clay) community courts to sand filled synthetic grass by various Melbourne Councils? What will this do to juniors learning skills of tennis?” His response was: “With respect to the development of playing skills, I would say “counter productive”, as I don’t like to swear.”

Could Moreland Council eliminating en-tout-cas tennis court surfaces hinder the skills of future professional tennis players? Quite Possibly.  

As many suburban courts are going synthetic, perhaps if Moreland kept some of our En Tout Cas Courts against the tide we may find that Moreland clay courts may become popular in the future for building a wide range of tennis skills in junior tennis players. 

The impact on the sport of tennis being played in Australia by converting ALL courts to synthetic grass needs to be a careful consideration in Moreland’s decision to proceed further.

Fawkner Leisure Centre Redevelopment. 

We view with great concern that the outdoor pool at Fawkner Leisure Centre is being considered for reduction as part of the redevelopment of the Centre. Given we have a warming climate with shrinking winter season, lengthening summer, with temperatures rising and more extreme heat events, outdoor pool use is likely to increase in coming decades. Outdoor pools are also an important fabric of the social community during summer months. The present outdoor pool also contributes to the Cool Park Island effect in CB Smith Reserve in moderating the urban heat island effect for the local micro-climate.

We also urge Moreland to investigate heating its swimming pools using heat pumps. A number of Councils have already moved to using heat pumps or are in the process of doing so. We have provided information to some Councillors, and are happy to discuss further.

Open Space Maintenance

During research into synthetic surfaces we found many research papers on urban lawns and grasslands that show these grass surfaces have substantial potential to sequester carbon dioxide as soil organic carbon. The largest issue whether they are negative in terms of emissions is the management regime, especially for managing Nitrous Oxide emissions. 

Conservative management regimes will make urban lawns and grasslands carbon negative. But this also depends on emissions produced in their management being reduced. 

Fertiliser use needs to be minimised. 

Petrol and diesel fossil fuels for equipment used in maintenance needs to be phased out. There needs to be a plan to convert equipment used in open space management to rechargeable battery power. 

Strategic Projects

Phaseout of Gas in Council Facilities

We were most disturbed at the amendment proposed to withdraw the funding allocation for a report into phasing out gas in Council Facilities at the May Council meeting. We consider this report is of high strategic importance for Council Operations emissions and for achieving Zero Carbon Moreland targets.

In regard to present Building Projects: 

  • What gas facilities have been incorporated in the new Glenroy Community hub development, if any? Can they be converted to alternatives?
  • Have gas facilities been included in the Fleming Park redevelopment, and can design alternatives be changed to avoid use of gas? 
  • Can gas be excluded from the redesign and development of the new Fawkner Leisure Centre?

Nature Plan

We look forward to initial implementation initiatives in the Moreland Nature Plan as a strategic project to address the biodiversity crisis and conservation of local ecosystems.

Integrated Behaviour Change – Zero Carbon Moreland, Waste, Climate Emergency, MITS

Essential work for community transition.

Solar thermal low-income grants

Great to see support for local income households for solar adoption.

Urban forest strategy – tree planting regime

Important to maintain increase in street and park tree plantings to moderate urban heat island. We also provide additional suggestions above.

ZCM Emergency Action Plan

Moreland’s zero carbon Moreland will need continual refinement, especially if at any stage more ambitious targets are reassessed as necessary. 

Council Infrastructure projects should include life-cycle embedded carbon as part of the project business case, which will make Council Operational emissions easier to calculate.

Transport Strategy

Transport emissions reduction are an area which will require substantial transport advocacy to other levels of government plus behaviour change to achieve. With the roll back of some of the parking levers, transport strategy requires a rethink and refocus.

Entry filed under: cycling, gas transition, Moreland Council, public transport, submission, transport, urban forest, walking. Tags: , , .

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