23 March 2016
Important changes to the ACT solar access provisions are now open for comment.
Under DV346 Canberra homes owners could have their solar access seriously compromised if the block on their northern aspect is ever redeveloped, so no home owner could ever be sure that their current solar access would be permanent.
The Government is proposing to weaken rules that extended protection of the solar access of neighbours (ie preventing a development next door from depriving a resident of access to sunlight) and facilitated and encouraged the introduction of passive solar design features in new buildings and redevelopments.
Draft Variation (DV) 346, now being considered, allows a larger building envelope and will increase the amount of shadow a house can cast on its southern neighbour. Despite the impact on the southern neighbour the proposal claims ‘it achieves better solar access than prior to Variation 306”.
There may be some benefits for greenfield sites and for so called “compact blocks” (250m2 or less) where the solar rules have led to higher costs, some perverse design outcomes (wedding cake houses) and compromised solar access (associated with digging in). The introduction of entire subdivisions of such excessively small blocks has exacerbated this. Any solution should be restricted in applicability to small blocks.
The variation (DV346) now being considered delivers reduced not better solar access for established homes on moderate (so called “midsize blocks between 250m2 and 500m2) and large blocks (greater than 500m2).
The current proposal gives the northern neighbour’s new development privileged access to sun while permitting more shadow on the established southern neighbour’s home. Giving better solar access to new homes or simplification of solar rules is not a compelling argument to take away significant sun from established homes.
The southern neighbour’s access to sun through north facing glass could be effectively removed or reduced without redress. A southern neighbour’s house, which currently has a 6+ star energy rating and meets the current BCA, could find that rating effectively reduced by a neighbour’s overshadowing following a redevelopment. For established homes, DV346 could deliver a worse solar outcome than before the 2013 solar rules came into effect.
Apart from undesirable impacts on the amenity of the overshadowed house, this will act as a major disincentive to invest in improvements which require solar access whether these be solar hot water and photovoltaics, or passive solar features like winter heating through sun exposed concrete floors.
The design and cost issues which DV346 addresses relate to a modest number of suburbs and sites. It is not appropriate for all residents of Canberra to suffer disadvantage as a consequence of a (possibly short sighted) policy decision to create such small and difficult blocks.
An animation accessible here provides a stark summary of the likely outcome.
The case for removing the benefits of the V306 solar access reforms from everybody has not been made. Any change should be restricted to small blocks, whether existing or green fields.
In addition setback concessions allowing building closer to the fenceline introduced with V306 in 2013 (as a quid pro quo for the improved solar access changes) remain under the current proposed variation and will permit both larger, more intrusive buildings (in the rear zone) and hence more shadow on neighbours’ properties. These concessions should be wound back if any change to the V306 rules goes ahead as the current setbacks permitting bulkier buildings were a trade off or compensation for the improvement in solar access..
At the same time as any changes to the solar access rules, the Planning and Development Regulations should be amended to reduce building tolerances to a maximum of 50 mm projection beyond the solar envelope, as the current tolerances allow additional compromise of the solar access of southern neighbours. The current regulations, relaxed relatively recently, allow a projection of up to 340mm (or more than a foot) for building measurement errors. In an age of ever increasing precision this is ridiculous. The extraordinary laxity of the currently required accuracy in building dimensions means all established Canberra home owners could have their solar access compromised unnecessarily.
- The current solar access rules are not a significant problem for medium and large blocks. Special provisions should only be introduced for compact blocks whether existing or green field so that the minimum number of residents have their solar access impacted by this change.
- At the same time as any changes to the solar envelope, the setback variations for side and rear boundaries should return to the pre V306 settings and building tolerances should be reduced to 50mm.
If solar access is important to you, too, please take the time to make a submission. The deadline for comments is 7 April 2016. Submissions should be:
emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org;
or mailed to Territory Plan Section
Environment and Planning Directorate
GPO Box 158
Canberra ACT 2601
or hand delivered to
Environment, Planning and Land Shopfront
Ground Floor South
Dame Pattie Menzies House
16 Challis Street
Copies of the Draft Variation; and background papers relating to the Draft Variation are available for inspection online at www.act.gov.au/recommendedvariations until 7 April 2016. Environment and Planning Directorate (EPD) also asks that comments make reference to the Draft Variation and also provide your name and contact details to assist in the assessment of the comments provided and to enable EPD to contact you in relation to your comments, if required.