Penrith, Australia

Photo by Penrith City Council

Addressing the urban challenge

Breadth of the issue- How are the problem(s) that are being tackled by your initiative affecting citizens/local businesses or a significant component of the local wildlife?

According to climate risk research specialists Risk Frontiers, extreme heat kills more people in Australia each year than all other natural hazards combined.

The challenge of heat is faced across the Western Sydney region. The physical inland location ensures the area does not receive cooling coastal breezes, and the region is also an area of high growth and development.

As part of Council’s Cooling the City work, heat monitoring was undertaken over the summer of 2019-2020, with 120 sensors spread across the Penrith area. On the 4th January, the lowest temperature recorded was 43.50c degrees (110.3F) while multiple locations recorded over 500c. High temperatures were recorded consistently across the whole Penrith area, however there were still a couple of suburbs at the extremities of the area that were considered to have their own microclimates, enabling natural adaptive capacity and slightly cooler climates to those suburbs closer to the urban centres.

Penrith has a population of just over 216,000, with vulnerability mapping showing that 194,322 residents are affected by heat, with 24,206 residents being the most vulnerable to heat including people over 65 years, people living with disability and chronic illness, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people and people with English as a second language. Eight of Penrith’s suburbs are also ranked in the bottom 30th percentile for levels of disadvantage, according to the national Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA), with these residents having a reduced capacity to prepare for and take action to adapt their homes to heat.

Depth of the issue – How seriously are the problems being tackled by your initiative impacting the life of the citizens/businesses/wildlife concerned?

Through its Cooling the City program, Council is leading to catalyse cooler development across Western Sydney. Most planning regulations which shape new development are set at a state government level, so advocacy has been a key focus for Council.

The Cooling the City Masterclass held in 2020 elevated the challenge of adapting urban planning and design to address the impacts of heat and underlined the business case for action for all sectors.

The Cooling the City Issues Paper launched in 2021 was developed through engagement with planners and industry stakeholders across Western Sydney to identify issues, gaps, and opportunities within the state planning system to better address urban heat in development to ensure cities and communities are adaptive and resilient to heat. Council has developed an advocacy plan to work collaboratively with partner organisations to be a strong voice in advocating to the state government to tackle the challenge of heat to benefit the community of Penrith and Western Sydney as a whole.

Council has developed an Urban Heat control Package for the amendment of the Local Environment Plan, applicable to development in all residential, business, industrial, special purpose and recreation zones as well as the RU5 Village and C4 Environmental Living zones, and the Development Control Plan to ensure cooling the city principles and controls such as cooling with landscaping, cool colours and materials, cooling through building design, optimising mechanical heating and cooling, are considered for development within the Penrith area (within Council control) to improve heat adaptation.