Local councils using planning powers to ban new gas connections

In the absence of a state-wide ban on new gas connections, local councils in NSW are using their planning powers to ban new connections.

The NSW Premier, Chris Minns, has ruled out state-wide bans on new gas connections following the announcement of Victoria’s ban, which will take effect in January 2024, and the ACT’s ban which starts in November.

But while a state-wide ban is off the table, for now, NSW councils are taking things into their own hands and finding ways to restrict the installation of gas appliances in new residential and commercial developments in their local government areas. Some are managing to ban new connections altogether.

They’re doing it by using planning regulations.

All councils have Development Control Plans (DCPs) which give them the legislative power to influence future development.

The City of Sydney is the latest council to announce they will use their planning powers to require new homes and businesses across the municipality to be all-electric and gas-free.

New research conducted by Strategy Policy Research and commissioned by the grassroots climate justice organisation, 350.org, found this could save every new household that’s built in Sydney an average of $430 per year on their energy bills.

In December last year, Waverley council, which covers Sydney’s eastern suburbs, updated their DCP because they were concerned they would not meet their net zero targets by 2035 if they did not get rid of gas in homes.

However, they did not have the legal authority to ban new gas connections under the planning laws if the reason was to reduce green house gas emissions.

“The challenge that councils have historically faced trying to implement reductions in greenhouse gas emissions [in NSW] is the BASIX SEPP [State Environmental Planning Policy],” says Rachel O’Leary, Sustainability and Resilience Coordinator at Waverley Council, who addressed a meeting of local councils organised by 350.org.

The Building Sustainability Index (BASIX) requirements are part of the development application process in NSW which stipulate water, energy use and thermal comfort performance for new residential buildings. Councils must consider BASIX when approving new developments.

However, the BASIX requirements specifically override councils planning controls if their DCPs try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

So rather than implement gas bans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Waverley Council chose to implement gas bans that ensure the indoor air quality of new buildings was of an appropriate standard and not harmful to human health.

That effectively enabled them to ban gas cooktops, ovens, and space heating systems, and stipulate that only electric systems could be installed.


Adverse health impacts of gas

Waverley Council was able to point to the substantial, and growing, evidence that gas cooking and heating appliances degrade indoor air quality and are dangerous to health.

“The health effects of burning gas indoors have been a problem for ages but only received attention in the last little while,” says Dr Ben Ewald, a GP from Doctors for the Environment and Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology at the University of Newcastle.

“The common gas stove, that everyone has in the kitchen, releases combustion products which are harmful.”

Ewald says the main combustion product of gas is nitrogen dioxide, which is made from oxidising the nitrogen in the air as gas burns. It gets dissolved in the lungs and is associated with respiratory irritation and asthma, especially in children.

Burning gas also produces carbon monoxide, which is particularly toxic and can release formaldehyde, another respiratory irritant.

“Carbon monoxide is mostly a problem associated with poorly maintained space heaters,” says Ewald. “It displaces oxygen from haemoglobin[in the blood] and blocks oxygen delivery to tissues.”

There are also small trace amounts of benzene generated in the gas flame, which is carcinogenic.

Gas appliances like stoves and heaters release combustion products including nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and benzene (Image: Luke Shaffer, Unsplash)

Other Councils

Other councils are also using the authority they have under their Development Control Plans to ban gas appliances.

Parramatta Council, in western Sydney, passed a new DCP in 2021 which bans gas in all new residential and commercial buildings in the city centre. They’re currently considering a separate DCP that would ban gas from all new commercial development across the entire local government area.

Parramatta’s ban not only applies to gas cooktops, ovens and space heating, but also to gas hot water systems. In fact, all new buildings must only use electricity for all their energy needs.

“This is significant because hot water heating plays a much bigger role in emissions than cooktops,” says Lucy Manne, CEO, 350 Australia.

350 Australia is working with local councils across NSW to help them work within their existing regulatory powers to ensure all new homes and businesses are all-electric and gas-free.

“In the context of NSW not acting [to ban new gas connections], local councils have the power to use the DCP instrument,” says Manne.

“Councils can insert anti-gas provisions into their DCP on health and economic grounds and that approach is a legally robust way to achieve no new gas in those developments.”

Strategy Policy Research estimates that if all new homes throughout NSW don't connect to gas, the state could save $3.7 billion, and 24.1 million tonnes of carbon emissions.

Anne Delaney
SwitchedOn Editor
June 24, 2024
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