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Water sensitive design is at the heart of Australia’s largest urban renewal project

At Melbourne’s Fishermans Bend development, engineers and urban planners have a unique opportunity to build a water sensitive city from the ground up.

By 2050, the 480-hectare site on the south side of the Yarra River will be home to 80,000 people and support the same number of jobs.

It will be made up of five precincts across the City of Melbourne and the City of Port Phillip, combing residential, business, education and green spaces in an area more than twice the size of the Melbourne’s CBD.

What makes Fishermans Bend notable is the vision to create Australia’s largest urban renewal Green Star community. This means promoting sustainability, protecting the environment, and taking an innovative approach to development.

In a framework, approved and released in October last year, the Fishermans Bend Taskforce outlined the planning controls and eight sustainability goals that will help achieve this, including goal five: A water sensitive community.

“The way that Fishermans Bend is planned and developed will have a significant influence on the future liveability of the city,” the Framework stated.

“It is an opportunity to ensure Melbourne remains a great place to live and work by setting new benchmarks for inner city urban renewal and attracting the talent and investment needed to create and sustain economic prosperity.”

A Class A community

The Framework sets out some ambitious targets for Fishermans Bend to achieve by 2050, including: reducing potable water demand to less than 100L per person per day; reducing net sewage discharge by 50%; reducing the impact of storm and flood events; and reducing nutrient discharges from stormwater and treated effluent to Port Phillip Bay.

Central to this is the proposed construction of a precinct-scale water recycling plant, run by South East Water, that will supply Class A recycled water to the community via a third pipe.

Fishermans Bend Taskforce Infrastructure Manager Andrew Chapman, who gave a poster pitch presentation at Ozwater’19, said this cutting-edge plant will provide recycled water at a cheaper cost than smaller building-scale systems.

“Not only will it be an active plant supplying the community with water, but also a hub for research where we can explore the possibilities for dealing with urban waste,” Chapman said.

The Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, together with partners the City of Port Phillip, City of Melbourne and South East Water is also investigating the possibility of building a sustainability hub at Fishermans bend, which could be co-located with the water recycling plant.

This would explore how energy, water and waste processes can be streamlined to improve recovery rates and increase community satisfaction, which Chapman said is important in such a dense community.

“Managing water and solid waste is a huge challenge in an urban intensive area with 300 or 400 houses per hectare,” he said.

“A traditional greenfield development has about 20 to 25 houses per hectare. We’re looking at twenty-fold that; how do you manage all the waste?”

Stormwater harvesting will also help reduce potable water demand, with water detention and retention basins placed in buildings and the urban environment. Chapman said this will supply about 10% of the precinct’s water demand.

Andrew Chapman.

It will also help address one of Fishermans Bend’s environmental challenges, the flooding that occurs due to its low topography and location next to the Yarra River. This is expected to get worse due to climate change, which is predicted to increase the intensity of rainfall and raise sea levels.

Chapman said this means it is important that water sensitive urban design (WSUD) principles are used to incorporate water storage into the environment.

“We’re embedding water storage in the development: we’re putting storage in buildings and the urban landscape that will supply water for non-potable uses,” he said.

“And we’re looking at the way we design the community to make it resilient, even if it does flood.”

Future thinking

The scale of the development means Fishermans Bend has some big challenges to work through, but Chapman said all involved in Fishermans Bend are relishing the opportunity to come up with innovative ways to make it truly sustainable

“We have set a vision with the community of what we want to achieve, and now we’re working out the details of how to achieve it,” he said.

“We will create a place where people want to live and businesses want to open. The places of the future is what we’re striving for.”

This goes beyond Fishermans Bend. Not only will the development provide an alternative water source close to the CBD that could be used to help support Melbourne’s green spaces, but it is also an opportunity to learn more about precinct planning and creating resilient communities.

“This project could be a nexus in the heart of the city for the expansion of an alternative water network that radiates out,” Chapman said.

“We’ll also set guidelines that can be used elsewhere … Fishermans Bend is breaking ground in many areas that will be a benefit to Melbourne and the country.

“We’re enjoying thinking about what could be and facilitating how to do it.”

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