Western Sydney’s legacy of suburban planning failures

The future of Australian housing series

On 4 January 2020 Penrith, in Sydney’s west, was one of the hottest places on Earth at 48.9C.

Since records began, Australia has warmed by about 1.44C and rising, but the heat isn’t felt equally: few places are suffering as severely as western Sydney.

This sweltering example offers insight into what life in suburban Sydney could look like as climate change progresses.

On 4 January 2020 Penrith, in Sydney’s west, was one of the hottest places on Earth at 48.9C.

There are fears the impact of climate change will be compounded by shortsighted design preferences, which favour big detached houses with dark roofs, black driveways, small yards and a lack of green space over sustainable development.

In August, planning controls banned dark roofing in Sydney’s south-western growth area and specified room for trees in backyards.

But experts say more leadership is needed to ensure the urban planning agenda isn't set by bureaucrats and developers who prioritise profit and dwelling numbers over sustainability.

Many are already living in homes at odds with the changing climate.

The couple are very happy with their choice, and like the suburb, but their house has familiar energy drawbacks, despite having solar power.

Ryan Azzopardi and Melissa Lauricella have been living in Oran Park for about a year.

It’s a funny situation. The sun goes over the house, and in the morning it’s hot on one side, and in the evening it’s warm round the back. And in winter, it is freezing out the back of the house. But when summer comes around, and we get the intense morning sun, the rooms around the front can get really hot.

Ryan Azzopardi

Their roof is dark, bricks are also a darker brown, with front pillars a lighter beige. Azzopardi says no one asked him about the colours of bricks and roof tiles.

Black roofs mean you need cooling systems and because they are built right to the boundary, often the air-conditioning systems are competing with each other and blowing hot air toward the neighbours.

Prof Bill Randolph
from the University of NSW’s City Futures

Sebastian Pfautsch, associate professor of urban studies at the University of Western Sydney, says the region is an important marker for other capitals, since it has one of the fastest growing urban populations in Australia.

Australians deserve a better future and if we don't design for the changing climate, dwellings will ultimately be uninhabitable, and we know that is worse in areas of disadvantage.

Davina Rooney
Green Building Council chief executive

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