by April Shepherd, Editor, Council magazine
As the effects of climate change become more and more evident in Australia’s diverse regions, temperatures continue to rise – especially in urban areas. Blacktown Council, in Sydney’s western suburbs, is tackling urban heat with an innovative road-cooling solution, to reduce heat stress in the community; now and into the future.
Blacktown City Council is feeling the heat more than some, with Western Sydney routinely gauging higher summer temperatures than the city’s CBD.
This is why Council implemented an innovative trial to not just tackle urban heat, but to stop it at the source; the region’s roads.
As reported by a Council spokesperson, roads are the largest single contributor to the urban heat island effect in Western Sydney, especially at night. This is due to dark asphalt roads holding a significant amount of residual heat, increasing neighbourhood temperatures.
Council put this to the test, conducting a trial using CoolSeal, an asphalt seal coating in the form of paint that is designed to achieve lower temperatures on the road surface by being a lighter colour than traditional asphalt.
The effects of urban heat
The effects of urban heat impact many facets of society and due to increasing urban development and climate change, these effects are only becoming more prevalent.
Climate modelling for the Western Sydney region predicts an increase of up to ten days over 35°C over the coming years.
Blacktown City Council Mayor, Tony Bleasdale, said, “Urban heat is a significant challenge for Blacktown City, which consistently records higher summer temperatures than the average for metropolitan Sydney. It is crucial we look at ways to reduce the urban heat impact and improve quality of life in our City.
“I am particularly concerned for vulnerable residents, such as the elderly, those with a disability or with pre-existing medical conditions, as they are particularly at risk to the impacts of extreme heat.
“In recent years, we have seen the catastrophic consequences of rising temperatures on our environment, and therefore Council is committed to reducing heat stress in Blacktown City.
“Council is committed to exploring ways to deal with the urban heat effect through urban planning and cool road solutions.”
Roadblocking urban heat
Blacktown City Council aims to combat this urban heat through collaboration; partnering with Western Sydney University, the City of Parramatta and Campbelltown City Council to implement the trial.
The trial used CoolSeal, which aims to lower temperatures on the road not only by being a lighter shade of asphalt, but also highly reflective – which helps to reduce the amount of heat absorbed.
The roads included in the trial, which was conducted by Western Sydney University in the summer of 2020-2021, were: Mortlock Avenue, O’Donoghue Street, Burnet Court, Bartlett Avenue and Kobe Street – all located in Ropes Crossing, alongside some in Parramatta and Campbelltown CBD.
All roads were in good condition and received two coats of CoolSeal, and were all chosen due to varying climate factors, such as the amount of urban greening in the surroundings (open low-rise with scattered trees, compact low-rise and sparsely built with low plants).
The results are in
After nearly two years, the Council has reported positive results from the innovative trial, finding that unshaded pavements coated in CoolSeal were between 6 and 11°C cooler than uncoated pavements.
The trial concluded that CoolSeal is effective in reducing the surface temperatures of unshaded surfaces, however the effect on ambient (air) temperatures is still yet to be discovered, due to limits on trial area sizes.
All of the councils that participated in the trial will assess the results and determine how CoolSeal could be rolled out further, a spokerson from the Blacktown City Council said.
Steps for the future: cooling western sydney
Alongside the use of CoolSeal, the Council also introduced an array of other initiatives to prevent rising urban heat levels.
Council is exploring further projects that could reduce road temperatures, which include the use of:
∞ Light-coloured aggregate in road surfacing (such as recycled concrete)
∞ Clear asphalt binder in place of traditional black binder
∞ Concrete pavements and the use of light-coloured rejuvenation products (that protect and enhance the road seal)
Blacktown City Council is also working with the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC) on the ‘Turn Down the Heat’ and ‘Heat Smart’ initiatives.
Turn Down the Heat is a WSROC-led project that uses a multi-sector approach to cool down the region, guided by the Turn Down the Heat Strategy and Action Plan (2018) which was co-designed by over 55 stakeholders. Heat Smart is also WSROC-led, but focuses on analysing which processes are needed to handle heatwave emergencies.
The Council also started a heat refuge trial in January 2022, activating a network of cool centres, which are places for vulnerable community members to seek refuge during days of high temperatures, and are manned by Red Cross volunteers.
There are a number of cool centres across Blacktown City, including: Tregear Community Centre, Bidwill Blacktown Uniting Churches and Community Access Western Sydney centres.
Other key initiatives are:
∞ Council is committed to improving energy efficiency and transitioning to renewable energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
∞ Council is aiming for net-zero emissions from all electricity, gas and fuel used in its operations by 2030
∞ Council is working with the community to aid New South Wales in achieving its target of net-zero emissions by 2050
∞ Blacktown City Council also joined the nationwide declaration of a climate emergency in February 2020 and called for immediate action from all levels of government
∞ Council allocates $100,000 each year for a climate change emergency fund that it can draw on to implement additional climate change initiatives
Fighting climate change to reduce extreme heat
As important as urban heat preventative initiatives are for the health and longevity of the Western Sydney region, Blacktown City Council recognises the need to reduce carbon emissions and focus on fighting climate change, to prevent the cause of rising temperatures.
Council has been committed to carbon neutrality for its operations from the financial year 2020/21 and is on track to reach its target of 100 per cent renewable electricity for its operations by 2025.
The Council has also introduced free electric vehicle charging stations, has its own electric vehicle fleet and has been focusing on integrating solar energy into Council buildings, installing 1,800 solar panels so far.
“Tackling rising temperatures is a key challenge for Blacktown City and Western Sydney more broadly, and Council is committed to ensuring the City can become more resilient to a changing climate and remain liveable into the future,” Mayor Tony Bleasdale said.