Breathe easy Australia … but more to be done
Australian cities boast air quality that is among the best found in urban centres across the world, however we face a number of challenges if we are to maintain or improve that standing.
The comparatively high quality of air found in Australian cities was a notable finding in the Atmosphere chapter of the recently released national report: State of the Environment 2016.
“Air quality is generally quite good in Australia’s cities, and they benefit from being quite spread out from one another,” says Dr Kathryn Emmerson, an atmospheric chemist at CSIRO and one of the authors of the Atmosphere chapter of the report.
“Unlike in places like Europe or Asia, air pollution from one Australian city doesn’t tend to impact on other cities because of the distance between them.”
Although the overall air quality picture is quite good, Australia is performing better in some areas than others. The report found that levels of carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, coarse particulate matter and sulfur dioxide have all decreased in the past 10 years. However, ozone and fine particle levels have not declined, and ongoing efforts will be required to better understand the impacts of this.
The report concluded that identifying the sources of fine particles (less than 2.5 microns in size) and reducing their presence in the atmosphere is one of the next major challenges on the air quality front.
“There needs to be further research into this because these fine particles can be breathed deeper into the lungs than larger particulate matter, which can cause greater health impacts. They can also be transported further and persist for longer in the atmosphere,” according to Dr Emmerson.
A new development since the 2011 State of the Environment report is that Australia has put in place air quality limits (supported by health experts) for these small particles.
In the ACT, residents have access to real-time air quality data through the Air Quality Index website launched by ACT Health in late 2014.
The relative good fortune Australians experience when it comes to air quality will be challenged by future population growth and predicted increases in energy and transport needs and associated emissions.
“Along with the increased emissions that will arise from population growth, we will also need to manage the impacts of climate change. For example, extreme heatwaves can change the chemical reactivity of the atmosphere, promoting the formation of photochemical smog,” Dr Emmerson says.
Ensuring air quality at Ginninderra
The most recent State of Environment Report for the ACT (2015) found that: ‘The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has good ambient air quality.’
‘The results of air quality monitoring during the reporting period show excellent results and continued compliance with National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure standards.’
The main source of emissions in the ACT continues to be motor vehicles. The report also found that pollution from wood smoke in winter is the major source of exceedances of particulate matter (PM) standards. ‘Smoke from bushfires and hazard reduction burns in the ACT and New South Wales also caused these standards to be exceeded.’
To maintain excellent air quality across the Ginninderra property, CSIRO plans to work closely with a future joint development partner and the community on initiatives such as:
- reducing car use (and associated emissions) by promoting walking and cycling
- planning for mixed-use to shorten the distances to access services/amenities
- designing buildings to reduce the energy requirements for heating and cooling
- creating sustainable energy systems, based on renewables and energy efficiency
- using open space and strategic vegetation plantings to trap particulate matter, and
- addressing urban heat island effect so temperature does not exacerbate air quality.
“One of our goals at Ginninderra is to deliver a high quality built environment that promotes clean air and the health and wellbeing of residents and visitors and also supports the health of the surrounding ecosystem,” said CSIRO Acting General Manager for Business and Infrastructure Services, Joe Colbert.
Project update – November
Over the past month, the project team has continued to develop the framework to protect the ecology and retain significant green space and environmental corridors in the landscape of a proposed future development at Ginninderra.
As part of ongoing environmental studies, Umwelt Pty Limited (Umwelt) was engaged to undertake this ecological survey for the Ginninderra Field Station to determine the extent of ecological values, including matters of national environmental significance (MNES) on the property.
In early November, we were pleased to release the Ecological Values of CSIRO Ginninderra Research Station Report.
If you have any questions about the findings, please leave a comment below or email us.
Umwelt also prepared an Ecological Management Plan to assist us to maintain the condition of matters of national environmental significance (MNES) in identified areas.
The Ecological Values Report is one of three reports that has been released to the wider public. We look forward to adding to this number as the planning process continues.
Last week, a workshop was held for the project team to further refine our aspiration to partner in creating a world-leading sustainable urban community at Ginninderra which is underpinned by science and best practice.
We examined successful international design models and developed sustainability benchmarks and targets which will be included in the tender documents to inform a joint-development partner.
We are also in the process of collating the information required for an ACT heritage nomination.
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Protecting the Little Eagle
CSIRO is keen to continue to work with government, conservation groups and raptor experts to share knowledge and build greater scientific understanding and protection of the Little Eagle.
The Little Eagle, which is native to Australia and tends to inhabit open woodland, grassland and arid regions, is listed as a vulnerable species in the ACT, NSW and Victoria.
The first sighting of a Little Eagle flying over the northern part of the Ginninderra property occurred in December 2013.
As part of the proposed future sustainable urban development at Ginninderra, CSIRO is committed to the highest standard of environmental management extending well beyond legislative requirements for protecting threatened species and ecosystems.
Our best-practice environmental management includes comprehensive ecological surveys and ongoing collaboration with local conservation groups and experts to conserve important species and ecosystems.
During ecological field surveys over the spring-summer 2014, a successful breeding event for the Little Eagle was recorded. The nesting site was located in a mature scribbly gum, in a patch of woodland dominated by this species. As a result of this finding, CSIRO sought additional specialist ornithological advice to identify management recommendations that would help to ensure viability of the breeding habitat within the nesting site and surrounding foraging areas of open woodland.
The following recommendations were implemented:
- Avoid visiting the Little Eagle nest site during incubation and nesting phases, especially if the adult birds are seen circling or perched. Human visitation on foot appears to disturb birds and could cause nesting failure.
- No removal of live or dead trees, especially large older trees which provide nesting habitat.
- No removal of logs, woody debris and other dead wood derived from native species for firewood or fire control. These areas increase habitat provisions including species which are preyed upon by the Little Eagle.
Drawing on experiences from other urban developments, CSIRO sought further advice as to what additional information was required about the pair and their requirements during the critical breeding season. This revealed it is important to determine if the nest is used regularly, or at least during the next breeding season. It is also critical to understand the extent of the foraging area during the breeding season that is required to maintain the nesting pair.
Researchers will require regular access to the site for monitoring, and regular liaison and information sharing should occur between the CSIRO, raptor experts and ACT Government Conservation Planning and Research (CPR) Group.
These recommendations were implemented and CSIRO’s project team engaged with the ACTCPR Group and raptor experts to further research the Little Eagle to determine its movements in relation to the site.
In consultation with ACT CPR Group, the CSIRO purchased two specialist satellite tracking devices from the USA with the objective of capturing the Little Eagle pair, in accordance with ethics requirements, and tracking their foraging range through GPS readings.
While the Little Eagle can return to the same nesting location in subsequent years, they often utilise a range of nesting locations within their home range in different years.
As the Little Eagle pair was not found at the Ginninderra nest site in 2015, the tracking devices were not able to be deployed.
In 2015, the ACT Government successfully captured and tracked a male Little Eagle from a nesting event in Strathnairn (West Belconnen), one of only two recorded nesting events in the ACT in 2015 (the other being at Campbell Park). CSIRO is working with the West Belconnen project to ensure a consistent approach to the active conservation management of this species.
CSIRO is also keen to continue to work closely with the ACT CPR Group and raptor experts in regard to the Little Eagle.
While the breeding pair has not been recorded at the nesting site since 2014, CSIRO is committed to providing best-practice management of identified Little Eagle habitat. This includes establishing buffer zones around the nesting site to protect and manage Little Eagle foraging habitat. Overall CSIRO has identified 19 % of the property for legislative protection of endangered species and a further 12% for additional protection and buffer zones.
As with the West Belconnen development an exclusion area will be established around the nesting site, with no development to occur in this part of the property until research on foraging habitat is completed and taken into account.
Taking on the liveability challenge
Canberra is one of the best places to live in the world. Our beautiful open spaces, incredible sense of community and cosmopolitan lifestyle – without the traffic congestion typical in most cities – has now been recognised on a national and international level.
In March 2014 Canberra was ranked number one in the OECD Regional Well-Being Report, scoring highly in eight of the nine indicators including safety, access to services, civic engagement, education, jobs, environment, income and health.
Since then Canberra has continued to perform well in global assessments of liveability, ranking number 28 on the Worldwide Quality of Living survey in February 2016. While this is an achievement to be celebrated, can we actually improve on this?
Shaping and improving our future cities and their liveability is the focus of a range of CSIRO research. Achieving such improvements in liveability is also a key aspiration for our Ginninderra project.
“Liveability is typically measured using various social and economic indicators such as income, wealth, education, health status, economic, community and recreational infrastructure, and access to opportunities and services,” according to CSIRO Social Scientist, Dr Rod McCrea.
There are also aesthetic and environmental elements that contribute to liveability, for example features such as: air and water quality, environmental outlook and setting, and even native plant and animal presence.
“So in every city we see this trade-off between benefits such as: access to employment, health and entertainment opportunities and services; and the negative consequences of urban growth such as: housing costs, overcrowding, congestion and environmental degradation.”
“Increases in travel-to-work time and declining access to affordable housing can be negative impacts of urban growth when it is not well planned and executed.”
Rod and colleagues Professors Rosemary Leonard and Greg Foliente recently conducted a Survey of Community Wellbeing and Responding to Change across six local government areas in Melbourne. The survey was prompted by Melbourne’s current challenge of managing urban growth while maintaining quality of life and promoting community wellbeing.
While focussed on Melbourne, the research highlights the importance of community resilience and adaptability to successfully maintaining liveability and wellbeing amid urban growth and change.
“The planning and engagement of a community in urban growth and having a shared sense that ‘this is our place and we are growing it together’ are vitally important,” Rosemary says.
It is still early days at Ginninderra, with many opportunities for the thoughts and ideas of the local community to be heard and included through the planning process.
A participatory process that nurtures the liveability needs of future residents as well as those of people living in the area now, will help to produce a good outcome.
Exploring Ginninderra’s past, present and future
After more than half a century of dedicated scientific research, CSIRO’s Ginninderra Field Station is entering a new phase. Planning and engagement has commenced to deliver a new benchmark in liveable, sustainable and resilient urban development.
The Ginninderra Field Station was established in 1958 as a site for plant and agricultural research. This was in anticipation of the closure of the Dickson Experiment Station to make way for urban development in that area, which eventually occurred in 1962.
As with the Dickson site, the Ginninderra Field Station has now been surrounded by urban development and is no longer optimal for CSIRO’s agricultural research. In 2011 CSIRO started considering options for Ginninderra’s future use.
Rather than simply sell the property, CSIRO saw Ginninderra as a great opportunity to bring its research together to make a difference, not only for local residents and the ACT, but for other Australian cities, people, industry and the environment.
The sustainable urban development of Ginninderra presents an opportunity for positive social, environmental and economic impact for the ACT and Australia, while generating revenue for the reinvestment into CSIRO innovation and research infrastructure.
In December 2012, CSIRO sought advice from the National Capital Authority about the correct process for seeking an amendment to the National Capital Plan. Through this, a long-term vision to deliver a new benchmark in sustainable urban development has arisen.
It’s a vision that has emerged through engagement with CSIRO’s science capability, undertaking environmental and heritage investigations, and initial conversations with the community, and one that will continue to evolve and bring lasting benefits.
CSIRO staff first met with ACT Government officials in July 2014 and have met regularly since then to discuss the possibilities for the potential development of the Ginninderra Field Station for urban use.
These meetings confirmed that the site presented an opportunity for greenfield development, which has been supported by the NCA’s response to the key issues considered as part of Amendment 86: ‘The CSIRO Ginninderra site presents an opportunity for greenfield development that can make use of existing infrastructure and services, and provides a more suitable alternative to cater for the growth of the city than other greenfield sites.’
CSIRO’s engagement with community groups, nearby residents and industry associations began in August 2015, coinciding with the land’s inclusion as part of Amendment 86.
This first round of engagement with the local community in September 2015 included three drop-in sessions at Gold Creek, Evatt and Charnwood and involved more than 220 people. This is only the beginning, as CSIRO aims to involve more of these people and groups in the conversation about how we can design and work together for a liveable, sustainable and resilient urban area.
On 5 May 2016, classification of the Ginninderra Field Station to ‘Urban’ as part of the National Capital Plan was approved. This decision paved the way for CSIRO to seek Expressions of Interest (EOI) for a suitable development partner.
Following the closing of the EOI on May 23, CSIRO is evaluating and shortlisting suitably qualified developers, ahead of a Request for Proposal process later in the year.
CSIRO is excited about the opportunity to continue to work with the community, government, research partners, and other stakeholders, to create something unique at Ginninderra.
CSIRO is also committed to continuing the discussions with ACT Government agencies to harmonise with future planning goals and aspirations.
Future steps for the Ginninderra project include a site visit with conservation groups and workshop in June, community forum in July, additional community meetings in early 2017, as well as planning, approvals and detailed design in 2018. The earliest that any development could commence on the site is in 2019.
Aspiring for best practice at Ginninderra
As we welcome in 2016, some of the Ginninderra project team have been enjoying a holiday break while others are working hard to scope the vision and potential for a liveable, sustainable and resilient urban development at Ginninderra.
A team of CSIRO researchers, and experts in their fields, gathered in Canberra late in 2015 to discuss the areas of research, technology and innovation that could be included in the Ginninderra venture.
“The workshop produced a lot of ideas and energy about specific science and innovation that we could integrate if the project gets the go ahead,” said science leader Mr Guy Barnett.
“We have some exciting research knowledge and technologies that can contribute to a best practice urban development and we are now working those ideas into a consolidated vision.”
We look forward to revealing these ideas and seeking your input as the project progresses. Stay tuned.
As the vision continues to emerge, the process of seeking reclassification of the Ginninderra Field Station to ‘Urban Area’ also continues.
As mentioned in our last newsletter, we are still following through the processes that govern land reclassification in the ACT.
In the meantime, we’re continuing environmental, heritage and other studies to ensure we have a thorough understanding of the site and needs of a future residential community.
Canberra’s hidden reserve
The Ginninderra Field Station was established in 1958 as a site for agricultural research in anticipation of the closure of the Dickson Experiment Station to make way for urban development in that area, which eventually occurred in 1962.
The Ginninderra site is located in the northern area of ACT, surrounded by the suburbs of Gungahlin, Hall and Nicholls to the north, Giralang to the east, and Evatt, Spence and Fraser to the south.
While nearby residents know more, it’s an area many people have driven past every day and never realised what lay within.
Behind the unassuming ridges and rows of vegetation lies 701 hectares of grassy open space with 80 hectares of irrigated, arable land. The quality soil and water availability on the site has provided excellent opportunities to support CSIRO’s agricultural research effort.
There are three houses, a machinery shed, a workshop, a barn, shearing sheds and some scientific equipment and approximately 5,000 sheep on the property.
Australia is famous for its beautiful natural environment which is reflected throughout the site. A mixture of native grasses, Scribbly Gum woodland, Box-Gum woodland, Eucalypts and pines create the greenscape of the site.
A natural drainage system, Halls Creek, separates the upper and lower areas of the site. Surrounded by ridges and hills there are amazing views across to Belconnen Town Centre, Telstra Tower and the Brindabella’s from the highest points of the site.
Canberra is known for its ability to incorporate green spaces into the city. The future of the site will embody this, retaining green spaces, open reserves, and natural vegetation. Sitting within the north-eastern end of site lie two very special trees, Canberra’s oldest oaks. This unique part of the landscape will be preserved throughout the development.
The site is also home to native, endangered species including the Golden Sun Moth and Box-Gum woodland. Protecting the plants and creatures that call the Ginninderra lands home is integral to this project. Opportunities to improve the quality of woodlands and create natural reserves will arise throughout the course of the project.
A number of Aboriginal heritage locations have been identified on the site. When European settlement took place in the area homesteads were set up near the Ginninderra property. Nearby heritage listed sites include the Charnwood Homestead, the Palmerville (Ginninderra) Homestead and the Ginninderra Police Station. These sites are all important in better understanding Canberra’s early history and will be respected throughout the project.
Canberra CBD to Ginninderra Field Station [PDF, 4MB]
Draft Concept Plan [PDF, 1MB]