CSIRO Ginninderra development prompts formulation of affordable housing strategy

Published on 29 March in the Canberra Times. Written by Tom McIlroy.

Redevelopment of the CSIRO’s Ginninderra Field Station could be under way within two years, as the research organisation looks to experts for proper integration of affordable housing options as part of a new community.

Experts from universities, social service agencies, charities, banks and financial institutions will come together for an affordable housing think tank event in Canberra on April 8, before the CSIRO engages a consortium or joint-development partner for redevelopment, pending federal government approvals on required zoning changes.

Affordable housing products are provided for rent or purchase at prices that low and moderate income households can afford, while also meeting other living expenses. The CSIRO expects to deliver more than the required 20 per cent quota on the field station site.

The 701-hectare area sits on the ACT-New South Wales border, framed by the Barton Highway, William Slim Drive, Owen Dixon Drive and Kuringa Drive.

First established in 1960, the field station replaced research sites at the current site of the Dickson shops. The area has been home to the development of a range of projects including novel grains and agricultural systems.

ACT Shelter executive officer Travis Gilbert welcomed the think tank event and said the CSIRO was committed to incorporating the needs to affordable housing consumers.

“I think what the event will do is provide an opportunity to bring some leading experts into one room to have a discussion about how we can guide the aspirations of CSIRO and those of housing people, to get what I think could be a good quality development and something a bit different to more rent housing developments,” he said.

“One of the issues when we talk about affordable housing is price … and what that can sometimes mean is putting as many tiny units per square metres of accommodation as you can get for the price and selling them at a price that is technically affordable but still maximises profit.”

Mr Gilbert said affordable housing didn’t mean cheap housing.

“What ACT Shelter is really interested in pursuing is how affordable is a home to live in? A higher energy efficiency rating, for example, makes it much cheaper for people to heat and cool their homes.”

The discussion will include shared equity and innovative purchase structures, shared housing arrangements and comparisons between ownership and rentals.

Beating the heat at Ginninderra

We’ve all experienced the cool relief of seeking respite from a hot day under a shady tree. Recent studies have shown that tree cover plays a large part in combating the urban heat island effect.

Canberra is hot and getting hotter. Temperatures in the ACT have been increasing since about 1950.

Canberra sweltered though 10 consecutive days of 30-degree plus temperatures in early March, providing our hottest start to autumn on record.

This warming trend is set to continue, with recent projections of Canberra’s future climate indicating that temperatures are likely to rise further, resulting in more hot days and fewer cold nights.

This is exacerbated by the Urban Heat Island effect, where cities tend to trap and store heat during the day, staying hotter for longer than the surrounding countryside during the night.

To understand patterns of urban heat across Canberra, researchers in CSIRO Land & Water have used satellite thermal imagery to estimate land surface temperatures and map their distribution.

We recently tested this at Ginninderra Field Station, which yielded some very interesting results.

Dr Matt Beaty, a Senior Experimental Scientist in CSIRO Land & Water said, “As with other cities around Australia, there is a strong relationship between vegetation and land surface temperatures.”

“Newer suburbs, and industrial areas in Canberra with little vegetation cover, are typically much hotter during summer than older suburbs with established tree cover providing dense shade.”

The availability of water is also important. Not just to support healthy vegetation, but to drive the processes of evaporation and transpiration that provide cooling benefits in addition to tree shade.

CSIRO’s urban heat mapping for Canberra has been featured by the ACT Government in their draft ACT Climate Change Adaptation Strategy which is open for public consultation until 3 April 2016.

“There is a lot to be learnt from this urban heat mapping work that is relevant to the proposed urban development of the Ginninderra site and how we adapt our cities to climate change,” said Dr Beaty.

CSIRO heat mapping for the northern part of Canberra (shown below) identifies that during a hot summer day established suburbs are cooler than the Ginninderra site and surrounding countryside.

“This is due to the influence of suburban gardens and associated irrigation, which tends to result in cooler land surfaces than bare cultivated soils and dry sheep paddocks.”


The coolest parts of the Ginninderra site are the waterways and areas with existing tree cover.

“What this means is that large trees, irrigated grass and water will need to be a key feature of the design of any potential future urban development to combat the Urban Heat Island effect through the provision of shade and to drive the cooling benefits of evapotranspiration,” Beaty said.

Based on site investigations so far, approximately 150 hectares of the land on the Ginninderra site is unable to be developed due to its topography, heritage and ecological values, and is envisaged to form an open space network of connected recreational and conservation areas. This idea of ‘fingers of green’ through the site was reflected in the draft concept presented to the community last year.

But it’s not all about trees, other strategies for adapting our cities to increasing urban heat include the use of light-coloured construction materials in our buildings and paved surfaces. Light coloured surfaces reflect incoming solar radiation, reducing the amount of heat that is trapped in our cities.

Jacqui Meyers, another Senior Experimental Scientist in CSIRO Land & Water has undertaken research on the impact of climate change on the heating and cooling energy costs of a typical Canberra home.  This research is also cited in the ACT Government’s draft ACT Climate Change Adaptation Strategy.

“The energy required to heat a typical Canberra home in 2070 may be one-third lower, but energy for cooling could more than double,” Myers said.

“An integrated response to urban heat is required, which includes a focus on climate-wise buildings, planning provisions that provide space for trees to shade buildings and pedestrians, and open space networks that support healthy vegetation and waterways to deliver further cooling benefits.”

Overall, there are many opportunities for science to inform the planning and design of the proposed urban development of the Ginninderra site. More tree cover is good for addressing the urban heat island effect, but would also provide many other social and economic benefits.

Project Update

Over the past month the project team has continued its environmental and heritage studies so this important information can be further refined while the land reclassification decision under Draft Amendment 86 is pending.

Once we are aware of the outcome of this process, we will consider the next steps for the project and communicate this to our stakeholders.

You can read more about the process in detail on the NCA website.

We expect to find out more about the outcome of the request later this month or in April.

In the meantime, CSIRO scientists have been collaborating to establish the best ideas and innovation for potential application in a sustainable urban development at Ginninderra.

The Ginninderra Project team is continuing to work with the community, government, research partners, and other stakeholders, to create something unique and remarkable at Ginninderra.

Heritage studies in focus

There has been a lot of interest in the heritage studies that CSIRO has carried out before and since it requested the NCA land classification amendment of the Ginninderra Field Station.

CSIRO engaged specialist consultants in late 2013 to undertake several heritage studies in relation to its Ginninderra Field Station. The two key heritage reports that have been undertaken to date are:

A brief overview of each of these heritage reports is provided below.

Stage 1 Heritage Assessment

The Stage 1 Heritage Assessment (HA) assessed the study area containing Aboriginal heritage values that meet the threshold for nomination to the Commonwealth Heritage List (CHL). The northern portion of the study area, CSIRO Block 1609, is included on the ACT Heritage Register as it contains several Aboriginal heritage sites.

A recommendation of the Stage 1 Heritage Assessment report included to prepare a Heritage Management Plan (HMP) for the site (see Stage 2).

Stage 2 Heritage Management Plan

A draft Stage 2 Heritage Management Plan (HMP) was prepared in early 2015 based on the site’s use as a Field Station.

As the option for future development of the land became a possibility, CSIRO decided to update the Stage 2 HMP to address the potential change of land use to urban. This change in land use also involved further seasonal ecological surveys and a Stage 2 Environmental Site Assessment (ESA).

As part of the Stage 2 HMP, consultation with the four Representative Aboriginal Organisations (RAOs) was undertaken.

The consultation was undertaken as part of an additional field survey in October 2014, to re-assess and record the true geographic location of previously identified Aboriginal heritage sites.

The final draft of the Stage 2 HMP, was completed in November 2015. The HMP was reviewed by CSIRO and is currently awaiting the findings of the summer ecological surveys and Stage 2 ESA for incorporation.

The ecology and ESA reports are due in the first quarter of 2016. Once updated to reflect these additional studies, the Stage 2 HMP report will then be reviewed by CSIRO and comments will be incorporated into the final Stage 2 HMP.

The Stage 2 HMP report will then be circulated to the RAOs for their review and comment and once attained, CSIRO will undertake final sign off on the report.

This is consistent with CSIRO’s Indigenous Engagement Strategy, which outlines an ethics framework for demonstrating understanding and empathy of indigenous issues and values. It is therefore not appropriate for CSIRO to make this report available until we have the consent of the RAOs.

Further Works

In addition to the two main heritage reports, the Stage 1 Heritage Assessment and the Stage 2 HMP, a specific Environmental Site Assessment Heritage Management Plan was also developed to assist with the Stage 2 Environment Site Assessment subsurface works.

CSIRO voluntarily appointed a site auditor for the ESA works. This appointment extended the time required to develop the Sampling Analysis Quality Plan (SAQP) for intrusive investigations.

During the SAQP process, CSIRO wanted to ensure the four RAOs were proactively informed and comfortable with the investigation works to be undertaken.

Accordingly, a specific ESA HMP was developed to manage the ESA intrusive works in an informed and sensitive manner. The ESA team negotiated with the site auditor, along with environmental and heritage consultants to ensure the test pits were in suitable locations, avoiding areas of potential Aboriginal sensitivity. As part of the ESA works, all four RAOs were consulted, with the presence of an archaeologist to supervise the works undertaken in November 2015.

Summary of Approach

The above heritage reporting and continued engagement and consultation with the RAO’s reflects CSIRO’s commitment to manage heritage and environmental values in line with Commonwealth and Territory legislative obligations.