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Environmentally Sustainable Design

We are committed to creating an environmentally sustainable and liveable city. We can assist you to incorporate environmentally sustainable design into your development during the planning process.

Sustainable design assessment in the planning process

When you apply for a planning permit you are required to include sustainable design information with your application as per Merri-bek Local Planning Policy Clause 15.02-1, which you can view on the Victorian Government's Department of Transport and Planning website.

Incorporating sustainable design into new developments

Incorporating environmentally sustainable design into new developments is a requirement under the Merri-bek Planning Scheme. The objective is that development should achieve best practice in environmentally sustainable development from the design stage through to construction and operation.

The policy provides objectives and application requirements for residential, mixed-use, and non-residential development. It recognises the importance of considering environmentally sustainable design at the time of planning approval for new developments.

If you are applying for a planning permit to construct a new building, you will need to provide information with your planning permit application across the following areas:

  • Energy
  • Water resources
  • Indoor environmental quality
  • Stormwater management
  • Transport
  • Waste management
  • Urban ecology

For more information about each of these categories, including design strategies, see our Sustainable Design Standards below.

If you are preparing a planning application, we encourage you to book a pre-application meeting. You can also speak to our Sustainable Built Environment Unit by calling 9240 1111 to discuss your application.

  • The information that needs to be submitted with a planning application is proportionate to the scale and complexity of the proposed development.

    A Sustainable Design Assessment (SDA) is required for:

    • Accommodation / mixed use developments of 2-9 dwellings
    • Development of a building for accommodation other than dwellings with a gross floor area between 50sqm and 1000sqm
    • Development of a non-residential building with a gross floor area between 100sqm and 1000sqm.

    A Sustainability Management Plan (SMP) is required for:

    • Accommodation / mixed use developments of 10 or more dwellings
    • Development of a building for accommodation other than dwellings with a gross floor area of more than 1000sqm
    • Development of a non-residential building with a gross floor area or more than 1000sqm.
  • A Sustainable Design Assessment (SDA) is a document that sets out the sustainable design features of a proposed development.

    The Built Environment Sustainability Scorecard (BESS) can be used to undertake a Sustainable Design Assessment. Submit the BESS report with your planning application to satisfy the requirements under Moreland Local Planning Policy Clause 15.02-1L for an SDA.

    It is important that all relevant initiatives are clearly annotated on architectural drawings.

    It's generally not necessary to engage a sustainability consultant to prepare an SDA.

    Pre-application, Pre-RFI checklist

    We have prepared a simple checklist to guide applicants through expectations. 

    Merri-bek Guidance Plans and SDA

    We have prepared an example SDA and accompanying plans to assist you preparing your own documentation.

    The example plans contain required ESD aspects such as details about glazing, external shading, rainwater tanks and water sensitive urban design measures.

    The example SDA contains an overview of the development, a BESS report, preliminary NatHERS ratings and a STORM report.

    SDA Post Construction Checklist

    Planning permits currently have a standard condition requiring the submission of a SDA Post Construction Checklist. The Checklist must demonstrate compliance with the ESD conditions of the permit.

    Download the document below and amend it to suit the project.

  • A Sustainability Management Plan (SMP) is more detailed than an SDA. It sets out the sustainable design features of large developments as defined in the application requirements above, and provides more information about how the performance outcomes will be achieved (including implementation schedules).

    A BESS report alone will not satisfy the requirements under Moreland Local Planning Policy Clause 15.02-1L of the Merri-bek Planning Scheme for an SMP.

    Large developments provide the opportunity for major resource savings and other environmental benefits, so greater rigour in investigation is required.

    Preparation of an SMP will ususally require the engagement of a sustainability consultant.

    Moreland discourages informal Green Star ratings. If Green Star or other green building rating tools other than BESS is being claimed, this should be a formal green building certification (e.g. WELL, Living Building Challenge).

    For large developments Merri-bek requires a post construction report be submitted to satisfy the Planning Permit requirements. An example post construction SMP report has been developed to demonstrate the expected evidence and support the submission of the report.   

    A Building Users’ Guide is commonly committed to during the SDAPP process, Merri-bek has prepared an sample Building Users’ Guide (BUG) for applicants to use as guidance.


    • BESS is a free online sustainability assessment tool purpose-built for the planning application stage. It can assess single dwellings, multi-dwellings, non-residential and mixed use developments of any size.
    • STORM is a free online calculator for testing whether a site achieves best practice water quality objectives. STORM is managed by Melbourne Water.
    • MUSIC is detailed stormwater modelling software that is available for purchase from eWater.
    • Green Star is a green building certification system administered by the Green Building Council of Australia. The Green Star Buildings tool is suitable for use by large developments.

    Energy efficiency

    The energy experts at the Australian Energy Foundation (AEF) can offer free advice to help you make sure your renovation is as energy efficient as possible, saving you money on power bills and ensuring year-round comfort. Merri-bek residents can book a call-back 20 minute phone consultation online or you can call directly on 1300 236 855 and speak with a consultant from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Merri-bek's Sustainable Design standards

The Merri-bek Planning Scheme (Merri-bek Local Planning Policy Clause 15.02-1L) sets out a number of policy objectives under key sustainability categories. You can see the Merri-bek Planning Scheme on the Victorian Government's Environment, Land, Water, and Planning website.

Fact sheets can be found below for each of the key sustainability categories. The fact sheets provide more information about each category including design strategies, guidelines, and best practice standards.

Note that a 'pass' score in BESS is a required element of an SDA or SMP, but the development must also achieve the objectives under Clause 15.02-1L, or provide an adequate explanation if they cannot be met. You can read this specific clause on the Victorian Government's Environment, Land, Water, and Planning website.

  • Policy objectives
    • To achieve a healthy indoor environment quality for the wellbeing of building occupants, including the provision of fresh air intake, cross ventilation and natural daylight
    • To achieve thermal comfort levels with minimised need for mechanical heating, ventilation and cooling
    • To reduce indoor air pollutants by encouraging use of materials with low toxic chemicals
    • To reduce reliance on mechanical heating, ventilation, cooling and lighting systems
    • To minimise noise levels and noise transfer within and between buildings and associated external areas.
    Our expectations
    • Adequate daylight to all living areas and bedrooms (as defined in BESS)
    • Openable windows in all habitable rooms
    • Cooling loads to not exceed 30MJ/sqm for any dwelling
    • Appropriate shading to all windows receiving direct sunlight.

    Factsheet: Indoor Environment Quality (PDF 201Kb)

    Factsheet: Daylight (PDF 2119Kb)

    Factsheet: Natural Ventilation (PDF 1772Kb)

  • The overarching objective is that developments should achieve best practice in environmentally sustainable development from the design stage through to construction and operation.

    Factsheet: Construction and Building Management (PDF 120Kb)

  • Policy objectives
    • To improve energy efficiency by ensuring developments demonstrate design potential for ESD initiatives at the planning stage
    • To reduce total operating greenhouse gas emissions
    • To reduce energy peak demand through particular design measures (e.g. appropriate building orientation, shading, optimised glazing, space allocation for solar panels, and external heating and cooling systems.
    Our expectations
    • Minimum 50% score in BESS Energy category
    • Cooling loads to not exceed 30MJ/sqm for any dwelling
    • External natural clothes drying facilities where possible

    Factsheet: Energy Efficiency (PDF 306Kb)

    Factsheet: Sunshading (PDF 637Kb)

    Factsheet: Building Envelope Performance (PDF 1867Kb)

    Factsheet: Zero Carbon (PDF 2876Kb)

  • Policy objectives
    • To improve water efficiency
    • To reduce total operating potable water use
    • To encourage the collection and re-use of stormwater
    • To encourage the appropriate use of alternative water sources (e.g. greywater).
    Our expectations
    • Rainwater capture and re-use for toilet flushing at a minimum
    • Minimum 50% score in BESS Water Category

    Factsheet: Water Efficiency (PDF 210Kb)

  • Policy objectives
    • To reduce the impact of stormwater run-off
    • To improve the water quality of stormwater run-off
    • To achieve best practice stormwater quality outcomes
    • To incorporate the use of water-sensitive urban design, including stormwater re-use.
    Our expectations
    • 100% STORM score, or MUSIC modelling demonstrating best practice stormwater management.

    Factsheet: Stormwater Management (PDF 549Kb)

    Factsheet: Site Permeability (PDF 2Mb)

  • Policy objectives
    • To minimise car dependency
    • To promote the use of low-emissions vehicle technologies and supporting infrastructure
    • To ensure that the built environment is designed to promote the use of walking, cycling and public transport, in that order.
    Our expectations
    • Bicycle parking – 1 per dwelling

    Factsheet: Transport (PDF 412Kb)

    Factsheet: Electric Vehicles (PDF 1205Kb)


  • Policy objectives
    • To promote waste avoidance, reuse and recycling during the design, construction and operation stages of development
    • To ensure durability of long term reusability of building materials
    • To ensure sufficient space is allocated for future change in waste management needs, including (where possible) composting and green waste facilities.
    Our expectations
    • Recycling facilities are at least as convenient to future occupants as general waste facilities.

    Factsheet: Waste Management (PDF 295Kb)

  • Policy objectives
    • To protect and enhance biodiversity within the municipality
    • To provide environmentally sustainable landscapes and natural habitats, and minimise the urban heat island effect
    • To encourage the retention of significant trees
    • To encourage the planting of indigenous vegetation
    • To encourage the provision of space for productive gardens, particularly in larger residential developments.

    Factsheet: Urban Ecology (PDF 549Kb)

    Factsheet: Green Roofs, Walls and Facades (PDF 2343Kb)

  • The following additional fact sheets are available. While these categories are not specifically covered in Merri-bek Local Planning Policy Clause 15.02-1L, the information often overlaps with other categories. We encourage development applicants to address these categories in any proposed development.

    Factsheet: Building Materials (PDF 277Kb)

    Factsheet: Innovation (PDF 220Kb)

    Factsheet: Melbourne Climate (PDF 528Kb)

    Further Information

    Factsheet: Introduction to SDAPP (PDF 440Kb)

    Factsheet: ESD Tools (PDF 446Kb)

Resources for sustainable design

Showcase your sustainable development

We're always looking for new case studies. If you would like your development featured on our website then get in contact with our Sustainability Unit by calling 9240 1188.

Assessing overshadowing impacts on solar panels

There are currently no state-wide guidelines for assessing the overshadowing impacts a proposed development may have on existing solar photovoltaic panels. We have prepared the following advisory note outlining the issues and suggested approaches where this situation arises.

The advisory note is available in the following file types:

Useful links and guides

  • Our Merri-bek Sustainable Building Policy outlines best practice environmentally sustainable design outcomes in our own capital works projects to ensure that all new and renovated buildings meet best practice standards.

  • Your Home provides a wide range of advice and design guides for passive design and sustainable building, including good rules of thumb. An excellent resource for individuals seeking to improve their understanding of ESD concepts and practice.

  • Sustainability Victoria is a Victorian Government website with information about reducing waste, saving water and energy, and current rebates.

  • Renew is an independent, not-for-profit organisation providing practical sustainability advice for households and communities.

  • Tankulator is a free online tool by Renew that helps you calculate what size rainwater tank best suits your needs.

  • Sunulator is a free online tool by Renew that estimates the economic feasibility of a solar-battery system.

  • On Sustainable House Day you can visit some of Australia's leading green homes – homes that are not only environmentally friendly, but cheaper to run and more comfortable to live in. This annual event happens in September and has been running for over a decade.

Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD)

Urban development impacts the natural water cycle by creating impervious surfaces that affect the quantity and quality of stormwater. This generates increased pollution and erosion. In Merri-bek, stormwater runoff is discharged to Port Phillip Bay via Merri Creek, Edgars Creek, and Moonee Ponds Creek. Stormwater runoff and pollutants are detrimental to these creeks, the bay, and the ocean.

WSUD mitigates these impacts while reducing water bills and creating greener urban areas.

Benefits of Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD)

WSUD also provides many social, economic, and environmental benefits including:

  • Minimising impact on receiving waters
  • Reducing potable (drinking) water use
  • Recharging local groundwater through the infiltration of stormwater
  • Creating greener urban environments with high visual amenity
  • Achieving passive cooling through increased vegetation cover

Best practice

The Victorian Urban Stormwater Best Practice Environmental Management Guidelines (Victorian Stormwater Committee, 1999) define best practice stormwater pollutant removal as:

  • 80% reduction in the typical urban load of total suspended solids
  • 45% reduction in the typical urban load of total phosphorous
  • 45% reduction in the typical urban load of total nitrogen
  • 70% retention of a typical urban load of litter

In addition, the Victorian Planning Provisions (VPP) require flow from the site to be designed to ensure that flows downstream of the site are restricted to pre-development levels unless increased flows are approved by the relevant drainage authority and there are no detrimental downstream impacts.

As a Council, we are located in the middle reaches of Merri Creek and Moonee Ponds Creek, with downstream flows impacting the lower reaches of the Yarra River. Meeting the stormwater quality objectives is important to maintain the health of the creeks, as well as the downstream river, bay, and ocean.

You can find out more about our catchment area on the Melbourne Water website: Yarra River | Melbourne Water 

Demonstrating best practice

Meeting the VPP requirements can currently be demonstrated in two ways, either:

  • Option 1: Submitting a STORM report achieving a score of at least 100%
  • Option 2: Submitting a MUSIC model demonstrating a treatment train that achieves the above targets

Option 1: STORM Calculator

The STORM Calculator is a user-friendly and free online tool developed by Melbourne Water. You can access this tool on the Storm Melbourne Water website. It is designed to be suitable for applicants without any formal training in designing stormwater treatment systems.

The STORM Calculator inputs include the total development area and all impervious areas (including impervious areas where no treatment will be provided for stormwater runoff). The calculator enables users to select from a range of WSUD treatment types.

An overall STORM score of at least 100% is required to demonstrate that best practice stormwater management has been achieved.

Option 2: MUSIC

The Model for Urban Stormwater Improvement Conceptualisation (MUSIC) is a modelling tool that uses historic rainfall data to estimate catchment runoff and predict the performance of WSUD infrastructure. You can access the MUSIC tool on the eWater website. It enables a significantly higher degree of modelling complexity and flexibility compared to the STORM calculator.

The MUSIC model should only be used by those with appropriate expertise. MUSIC models used to prepare WSUD responses for the City of Merri-bek must be developed in accordance with Melbourne Water MUSIC Guidelines which you can see on the Melbourne Water website.

MUSIC users must have a software licence and a minimum level of training and competency to develop a MUSIC model. MUSIC training is provided by eWater, and there is information on how to get this training on the eWater website. MUSIC is generally the most suitable assessment tool for complex and/or large developments (e.g. large multi-lot subdivisions) and any proposal that involves stormwater harvesting.

Water Sensitive Urban Design treatments

A range of Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) treatments can be used to demonstrate best practice stormwater management.

Please note: Merri-bek City Council does not accept proprietary products.

Principles for preferred stormwater management - townhouse developments (2 to 9 dwellings on a lot)

The principles for preferred stormwater management within townhouse developments (of 2 to 9 dwellings on a lot) are:

  • Maximise roof drainage to rainwater tanks and plumb this water into the dwelling toilets for flushing. 
  • We will not accept the use of charged pipes underneath dwelling slab components, including garages.
  • Where draining the entire roof to a rainwater tank is not realistic, a split catchment should be provided, such as the roof draining to an above-ground planter box raingarden.
  • Where the treatment of driveways is required, they can be treated by permeable paving. A section and details of any permeable paving must be provided before the condition stage of the planning process.
  • The STORM report must have a minimum rainwater tank reliability of 80%.

We will not accept any of the following:

  • Driveways draining to in-ground raingardens adjacent to neighbouring properties or proposed buildings
  • Raingardens in areas of secluded private open space (e.g. rear gardens)
  • Buffer strips
  • Swales
  • Proprietary stormwater management treatment systems

We have prepared an example townhouse WSUD response. Please see the Merri-bek guidance plans (PDF) (in particular page 3) and accompanying STORM Report (page 27 within the Sample SDA response (PDF)). We have also prepared standard WSUD treatments documents.

Principles for preferred stormwater management - large-scale developments (10 or more dwellings on a lot, apartments, industrial, and commercial)

The principles for preferred stormwater management within large-scale developments (10 or more dwellings on a lot, apartments, industrial and commercial) are:

  • MUSIC – water tanks must be connected to toilets.  Merri-bek will not accept irrigation connection as the sole reuse due to the inconsistency
  • Maximise non-trafficable roof drainage to rainwater tanks and plumb this water into the maximum number of toilets for flushing
  • Where trafficable roof/terrace areas are required to be treated, they can be treated by above-ground planter-box raingardens where the size and location is practicable, subject to drainage design. Should runoff from trafficable areas need to be collected for toilet flushing; the relevant water treatment measures that achieve the required water quality must be proposed upstream and downstream of the tanks.
  • Where the treatment of driveways, car parks, and hardscapes is required, they can be treated by permeable paving where their specification is practicable based on their intended use and location. A section and details of any permeable paving must be provided before the condition stage of the planning process.
  • Where in-ground raingardens are proposed for the treatment of driveways, carpark,s and hardscapes, civil drainage design information is required before the condition stage of the planning process to demonstrate their feasibility and functionality. The information required upfront will include (but is not limited to) stormwater overland flow path and site grading, runoff collection system, surface level (RL) at the top of the raingarden, depth of the raingarden, the invert level of the outlet which connects to the stormwater system (or Council’s Legal Point of Discharge (LPOD)), the level and details of the overflow (details of the overflow pit), detention depth and infiltration layers.
  • Raingardens must connect to the stormwater system or Council’s LPOD via gravity and without the need for a pumping system. The raingarden location and design must ensure that it will not create an unreasonable impact on building structures and adjoining properties during a flooding or storm event.

We will not accept any of the following:

  • Proprietary stormwater management treatment systems
  • Buffer strips or swales, unless they are part of a treatment train or precursor to a bioretention system

Melbourne Water and our WSUD resources provide guidance on the design of raingardens. You can find the following resources about:

For our example townhouse WSUD response, you can:

How to develop a response

A Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) response must clearly demonstrate how stormwater runoff will be managed in accordance with the VPP Stormwater Management objectives.

  • WSUD responses should be developed as early as possible in the development process to allow WSUD to be fully integrated with the site design, such as roof shape and the site levels. This will result in a better WSUD response and easier assessment process.

  • Identify and measure the area of all outdoor “hard” surfaces on your site plan. Hard surfaces include roofs, balconies, verandas, pergolas, and concreted and paved areas. (Note that permeable paving does not count as a hard surface with respect to generating stormwater runoff).

    Depending on the type of roof construction, sections of the roof may drain to different points of the development, and therefore may need to be separated into sub-roof areas. Sub-roof areas may be combined where the roof runoff will be diverted to a common WSUD treatment, i.e. rainwater tank.

    The legal point of discharge for the property should also be identified. Discharges from WSUD treatments will need to be conveyed to this point.

  • Select which WSUD treatment will be used to treat runoff from each hard surface. Take into account any constraints on available space and site levels relative to the legal point of discharge.

  • Size your rainwater tanks using the assistance of STORM and MUSIC.

Installing solar panels on heritage homes

You can still install solar panels on your home when it's in a heritage overlay area, although you may need a planning permit.

A building permit may also be required. For more information call us on 9240 1111.

When you need a planning permit for solar panels

When the property is zoned in a heritage overlay:

  • If solar panels will not be visible from a street or park, you do not require a planning permit.
  • If the panels will be visible from the street or a public park then you need to apply for a planning permit. These types of applications, in most cases, receive a permit in 10 business days.
  • See submit a planning permit application for instructions on how to apply for a planning permit.

    You can submit the application and pay the fee online. You can also apply by mail or in person.

    • A current Copy of Title (obtained from the Titles Offices within 3 months of the application being lodged)
    • The planning application fee (if the cost of installing solar panels is less than $10,000, the fee is $199.90)
    • Photographs of your home
    • Brief written description of the panels
    • An aerial photograph of your property with the location of the panels drawn on the roof.
    Your photographs should include:
    • Your home as seen from the street (current condition)
    • Any oblique or side views of the roof (if this is where the panels are to be located)
    • A photograph of your home as seen from the street with the rough location of the panels indicated.
    Your brief written description of the panels should include:
    • The number of panels, size of the panels and where they will be located
    • The colour of the panels (multi/polycrystalline or monocrystalline)
    • The type of framing to be used on the roof and whether it will be laid flat or at an angle. This will enable the planning team to assess the impact on the existing roof and visibility from the street. 
    An aerial photograph of your property (from Google Earth or NearMaps) with the location of the panels drawn on the roof needs to show:
    • Property boundary, labelling the street
    • Orientation (where is north)
    • Approximate distance of the solar panels from the street and/or laneway.
  • Applications to install solar panels (if they are the only trigger for a planning permit) fall under the Fast Track planning process.

    These are typically processed through our Fast Track service and completed in 10 business days.

    For more information contact the Planning Department on 9240 1111.