Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) & the Planning System (Victoria)
With the annual Stormwater Victoria Conference held at Lorne last week, it is a good time to look at Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) or Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) as it is referred to in Europe.
WSUD is becoming an integral part of the development process in Melbourne’s inner and middle ring municipalities and is described as the integration of urban planning with the management, protection and conservation of the urban water cycle that ensures urban water management is sensitive to natural hydrological and ecological processes [1, Pg. 2].
It aims to reduce potable water consumption and integrate on-site reuse, increase liveability, protect sensitive environments such as creeks and bays, allow space for tree planting to improve amenity and reduce urban heat island affect, and reduce flooding [2, 3].
To put it simply, before urban development occurred rainwater percolated into the soil and our drinking water supply. It gradually made its way into creeks and streams before flowing into larger rivers and into the sea. This process was slow and only in storm events did it speed up. Now, a vast amount of rainwater falls on the roofs of buildings, driveways, car parks and roads and is collected in public drains which quickly feed into our rivers and the sea. This man-made process by-passes our soils and drinking water supply, introduces significant pollutants into rivers and the sea, causes flooding and results in a detrimental stress on plants and wildlife.
Melbourne Water WSUD illustration
There are multiple benefits of furthering the integration and use of this water management practice: WSUD systems can deliver multiple benefits including water conservation, stormwater quality improvement, flood control, landscape amenity and a healthy living environment [1, Pg. 1].
WSUD is an existing consideration within the Victorian planning system through provisions such as Clause 56.07 and Clause 58.03-8, specific local policy such as that at the City of Port Phillip and the consistent Local ESD Policy across a number of inner city Melbourne Councils.
However, as with many environmental policies and standards, implementation can be difficult . Barriers to the widespread integration of WSUD, especially within new developments include: lack of knowledge – both how to implement WSUD and its benefits, weak policy or limited mandatory requirements, additional cost to developers, lack of political will, and insufficient community involvement [1, 4].
Where WSUD is integrated into planning permits and identified on endorsed drawings (as with many other aspects of developments) compliance is a major issue. This is widespread within the Victorian planning system. Resourcing is considered one of the main contributors to this problem  – a problem that must be addressed by increasing Council’s capability, making Building Surveyors more accountable, increasing awareness and accountability with buyers, investors and renters or a combination of all.
Through their continued involvement in the assessment of the sustainable aspects of planning permit applications, the ESD branch of Moreland City Council have identified a gap in knowledge within the developer/consultant community and indeed a lack of simple literature to guide practical implementation .
To address this, Moreland has created a hierarchy of approaches to demonstrate which treatments are considered to have the best co-benefits and should be explored as the first options . Council’s WSUD website page provides clear and comprehensive information in a simplistic format that is suitable for all sectors of society including residents, developers and consultants.
The information includes:
· Relevant planning policy, WSUD benefits and best practice;
· WSUD treatments including rainwater tanks and rainwater gardens;
· Practical guidance on suitable WSUD infrastructure based on site context and development type;
· Software modelling – STORM & MUSIC;
· Planning permit application checklist.
Moreland City Council WSUD treatment hierarchy
Installation of green roofs is another WSUD mechanism which provides additional co-benefits through thermal performance of the building, additional amenity and urban ecology. Details on this infrastructure can be accessed through a Factsheet prepared by IMAP (the Cities of Maribyrnong, Melbourne, Port Phillip, Stonnington and Yarra). Supplementary WSUD information can also be obtained through Melbourne Water and Clearwater.
WSUD is a mechanism to achieve sustainable water management but also assists to mitigate and adapt to climate change. WSUD is identified by the City of Melbourne, in their recently adopted Climate Change Adaptation Strategy Refresh 2017, as an important mechanism to responding to climate change through enabling better use of existing water resources, and reducing our exposure to extreme heat drought and flood, by developing decision support tools that encourage water sensitive urban design and integrated water management [8, pg. 26].
WSUD is a sustainable aspect of water management and should be embraced by the community, developers and consultants rather than seen as a hurdle in the development process. The benefits are widespread and affect all – at a geographical and temporal scale, through health and safety benefits, cost savings, ecological preservation and increased amenity.
In short WSUD will benefit you:
· If you swim in Port Phillip Bay;
· If you fish in the bay / creeks;
· If you live in a hot climate;
· If you live in a drought affected climate;
· If you pay water charges;
· If you live in a flood prone area;
· If you appreciate the natural environment, leafy suburbs and wildlife;
· If you and your neighbourhood are susceptible to the impacts of climate change.
1. Sharma, A. K., et al. Water Sensitive Urban Design: An Investigation of Current Systems, Implementation Drivers, Community Perceptions and Potential to Supplement Urban Water Services, Water Water (2016), 8(7), 272; doi:10.3390/w8070272.
2. Al-Gretawee, S. Rayburg, M. Neave, The Cooling Effect of a Medium Sized Urban Park on an Urban Environment (2016) International Journal of GEOMATE Vol 11, Issue 26, pp. 2541-2546
3. European Union, Handbook on Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (2014) Web address (accessed 05/05/2017)
4. Ferguson, B. C., et al. The enabling institutional context for integrated water management: Lessons from Melbourne, Water Research (2013) 47, 7300 -7314
5. Victorian Auditor General, Enforcement of Planning Permits (2008) Web address (accessed 05/05/2017)
6. Stormwater Victoria Conference, Lorne (2017)
7. Moreland City Council, Water sensitive urban design, Web address (accessed 05/05/2017)
8. City of Melbourne, Climate Change Adaptation Strategy Refresh 2017
Title Image Credit: Melbourne Water, Key principles of Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) (2003)