More local councils move to ban new gas connections

Inner West and Lane Cove councils are the latest local governments to use planning powers to stop new buildings connecting to the gas network on health and economic grounds.

Inner West Council in Sydney has unanimously passed a motion to bring in new planning laws which will require all new homes and businesses built in their local government area to be fully electric.

This follows Lane Cove Council implementing revised planning regulations which ban new residential and business gas connections and require new developments to be all-electric.

Ten local governments in NSW have now either stated their intention to ban gas from new developments, or have already revised their planning regulations to enable a ban.

In the absence of a state-wide ban on new gas connections in NSW, local governments are using their planning powers to stop new buildings connecting to the gas network on health and economic grounds.

“We want to ensure that all future developments are sustainable, are healthy for their inhabitants, whether it's a residential development, or commercial development,” says Bernadette Riad, Manager of Sustainability and Resilience at Lane Cove Council.

“We're basically looking to minimise the installation of all the plant and equipment that rely on fossil fuels in buildings to reduce indoor and outdoor pollutants associated with gas,” says Chris Pelcz, Coordinator Strategic Planning, Lane Cove Council.

“We're also focusing on the economic aspects by reducing the cost to occupants by avoiding gas connections.”

In December last year Waverly Council in Sydney’s east also implemented bans to prohibit gas cooktops, ovens and heaters in new residential developments. Lane Cove has gone a step further and not only banned new indoor gas connections, but also outdoor connections, with one exception. Bottled gas BBQ’s will still be allowed.

In August, the City of Sydney voted to insert new clauses into its planning rules to require new homes and businesses, including apartments, to include electric appliances like stoves, cooktops, heaters and hot water units, instead of gas.

And in December 2022 Parramatta Council banned gas appliances in residential and commercial developments in its CBD. They’re now working to extend the ban to the rest of their local government area.

Canada Bay, Canterbury-Bankstown, Inner West, Ryde and Newcastle are all also exploring bans in residential settings. Gas bans will be voted on by several councils within weeks.

Summary of NSW councils implementing all-electric Development Control Plans (Source: 350 Australia)

All NSW councils have Development Control Plans (DCPs) which give them the legislative power to influence future development in their local government area. In every other state and territory any changes to council planning rules require state government approval.

However, under the NSW State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP), councils are prevented from banning new gas connections if the purpose is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This is despite the fact the NSW Government released a revised SEPP in October which claims to support the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The NSW  Department of Planning has also distributed guidance about the need to move away from gas.

Nevertheless, the SEPP doesn’t stop councils from finding other reasons to ban new connections and electrify buildings.

“The Lane Cove Council's new Development Control Plan is consistent with the Sustainable Building SEPP,” says Kirsty Ruddock, Managing Lawyer at the NSW Environmental Defenders Office, “and that's because the council relies on the express objectives of health - looking at  the indoor and outdoor air quality - and reducing energy costs.”

Decades of scientific medical research have shown that household gas appliances produce benzene, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and methane which adversely impacts air quality and poses significant health risks.

For instance, a 2018 study by the University of Queensland found 12% of childhood asthma is associated with or related to gas cooking.

“We found that quite shocking when we first heard it. We weren't aware of it,” says Chris Pelcz from Lane Cove council.

Councils can also restrict new gas connections on the grounds that gas is more expensive than efficient electric alternatives.

“Numerous studies have consistently shown that all-electric buildings will outperform gas ones, basically because of the supreme energy efficiency of electric appliances, particularly the heat pump,” says James Conlan, Campaign Manager Electrify Your Council for 350 Australia, a grassroots climate justice organisation. “The economic case for electric homes and businesses has really never been stronger.”

In addition to more expensive running costs, gas networks charge householders a fee to disconnect from a gas network, which Councils can factor into the overall cost of using gas.

“That’s another reason why councils might want to think carefully about [allowing new gas connections],” says Ruddock. “Once you allow the connections in it's quite difficult to disconnect them later on when people change their mind.”

Lane Cove Council staff estimate the cost of disconnecting and removing gas pipelines in Lane Cove is $1,169.30 per household.

“If 1000 apartments were built in Lane Cove without a new gas connection, the avoided liability for disconnection would be over $1 million,” says Chris Pels, Town Planner, Lane Cove Council.

Lane Cove also calculated the total savings from not connecting gas to an apartment is in the order of $2,000 per apartment. This includes not installing gas to the building, laying the gas distribution pipes, and the cost of a gas meter.

There is also a significant saving for homeowners who can then avoid standing meter charges. Jemena’s standing charge for a gas connection in Lane Cove is 65.8 cents a day, or around $240 a year.

The growing number of councils joining the push for all-electric new homes and businesses is the result of a campaign by 350 Australia.

“We’re asking that every council change its planning rules to require new residential and commercial development applications to be all-electric with no gas,” says James Conlan.

As part of the campaign, 350 Australia has commissioned a new report to quantify the costs and emissions reductions if every NSW Council required all new residential and commercial buildings to be fully electric.

“If every council required new homes to be fully electric from 2024, each new household across NSW would save on average $470 per year on their energy bills,” says Conlan.  “Over a 40-year period every home would save $9700 in present value terms.”

“Those savings are just from going all-electric,” Conlan adds. “Householders could save even more if energy efficiency upgrades are undertaken.”

Conlan argues that changes to planning laws provide a major opportunity for councils to reduce their community emissions at little to no cost. “I don't think there are many interventions that can achieve that,” he says.

To date, there have been no appeals in the Land and Environment Court to any of the revised council planning regulations. Conlan believes this is because the bans are not only legally robust, they don’t adversely affect developers financially.  

“It’s a capital cost saving for developers because they only have to install one new set of utilities infrastructure in the form of electricity, rather than electricity and gas.”

Conlan also believes it’s unlikely the gas industry will launch a challenge to the revised planning regulations in the courts.

“To have all the evidence dug up in a public process about the overwhelming health consequences of gas, and then have gas corporations lobby in favour of deliberately installing polluting appliances in the home, I think it would be a public relations disaster for them.”

Anne Delaney
SwitchedOn Editor
June 4, 2024
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