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New South Wales State of the Environment
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Human Settlement

SoE 2003 > Human settlement > 2.7 Amenity

Chapter 2: Human Settlement

2.7 Amenity

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2.7 Amenity

Greater consideration of amenity is required as Sydney's population and housing densities continue to increase

'Amenity' refers to a wide range of attributes and values that make a positive contribution to peoples' quality of life. As urban populations and housing densities grow, these amenity values come under potential threat. While amenity values for most local communities have not been formally identified, both local and state governments recognise the importance of new challenges to amenity arising from the land-use planning process.

This is the first time that amenity has been reported in the NSW State of the Environment report. Three indicators have been selected for reporting: urban green space, noise and odour. The data is preliminary and incomplete and should be considered indicative only.

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NSW Indicators


Status of Indicator

2.16 Urban green space

Preliminary information from 31 local councils in Sydney indicates that 'green space' is an important planning feature in the urban environment. However there is currently no robust inventory of urban green space.

2.17 Noise

The numbers of noise complaints received by the EPA increased in 2002–03. However this may not reflect overall trends as most complaints are believed to be received by local councils.

2.18 Odour

The number of odour complaints received by the EPA decreased in 2002–03. However this may not reflect overall trends as most complaints are believed to be received by local councils.

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Importance of the issue

The term 'amenity' relates to the qualities, characteristics and attributes people value about a place which contributes to their experience of a high quality of life (Bell 2000). Urban or residential amenity encompass a wide range of attributes and values which change over time and with cultural and socioeconomic status. The spatial scale at which amenity can be defined also varies from across a city, a suburb, a neighbourhood, a street or even a specific site, with each level contributing to the identity of an area and providing a 'sense of place' (Bell 2000).

The amenity attributes which people seek and appreciate often vary according to individuals' own values. Nevertheless, there are a number of general elements that contribute to the amenity of urban or residential areas. These include the physical landscape or streetscape; areas of vegetation and public and private open space for recreation, such as parks, reserves and gardens; urban design, including the scale and dominance of buildings; historic and cultural heritage; public views and outlooks; privacy; physical safety; and the accessibility of places (PCE 1996). Another component of amenity is the ability of people to lead their lives free of nuisances including those arising from noise, odour, vibration, dust, wastewater or waste products (LMC 2000).

Within the Greater Metropolitan Region (GMR: Sydney, Illawarra and the lower Hunter), the Government policy of urban consolidation has resulted in the redevelopment and infilling of the existing inner- and middle-ring suburbs of Sydney, predominantly in the form of multi-unit dwellings (see Human Settlement 2.1). This intensification of Sydney's urban area through higher population and housing density has the potential to affect amenity as pressure increases on the city's infrastructure, transport network, natural environment and cultural heritage (PCE 1996). The effects on amenity include:

  • increased dominance of the built environment, which alters streetscape with a loss of privacy, views and sunlight
  • more traffic and on-street parking and reduced levels of traffic safety
  • increased levels of noise and other emissions from traffic, construction, residential or industrial activities and a greater potential for conflict between different land uses
  • the loss of public and private open space, vegetation, wildlife corridors and habitat, heritage and areas with a special character.

Most people living in urban environments have experienced one or more of these changes to their amenity as a result of urban intensification. However, very few communities have formally identified or developed measures of amenity at a local level. If peoples' standard of living is to be maintained and/or enhanced while population and housing densities increase, it is becoming more important to recognise and incorporate the amenity values of local communities into the management and planning of their areas.

Although the focus of this issue is on amenity within urban areas, it is important to note that the quality of life of rural areas can also be affected, particularly by increasing pressures to subdivide land to accommodate expanding urban development and hobby farms.

Environmental indicators for amenity in the NSW State of the Environment Report are in a preliminary phase of development. However, there is increasing recognition of the importance of amenity and its management within Australia and abroad. Studies in New Zealand have identified a range of potential urban amenity indicators (PCE 1996; Bell 2000; Hill Young Cooper Ltd 1998). These include noise and vibration; nuisance effects; open space; urban density; urban design; heritage features; neighbourhood issues; visual amenity and aesthetics; public safety; mobility and accessibility; and general wellbeing.

For the purposes of this report, three indicators – urban green space, noise and odour – have been selected to report on the issue. It should be noted that limited data is available to report against these indicators and no baseline data has been assessed to establish acceptable benchmarks or whether levels are changing over time. Future reporting cycles are expected to overcome these data shortcomings and expand the number of indicators used to report on amenity.

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Urban green space

Urban green space can be defined as the area of urban land devoted to parks, reserves, gardens, recreation and other open spaces, including nature strips along transport corridors. Green space comprises both public and private (residential, industrial, commercial) open spaces and is managed, according to the type of open space, by a range of stakeholders, including local councils, State and Commonwealth governments, private companies, communities and residents.

It is widely acknowledged that open and accessible green space in urban areas provides numerous social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits for the local population (Spiller, Gibbins & Swan 1998). Among other things, urban green space may provide recreational opportunities, contribute to the aesthetics of the environment, improve air quality, enhance biodiversity, and perform water retention functions. These community values often come to light when urban green space is threatened or changed by pressures such as the expansion of residential, industrial or commercial developments or the construction of transport corridors and other infrastructure.

A survey of 31 Sydney councils under the GreenWeb Program (SROC 1998) in 2001 found that approximately 43% or 2305 square kilometres (km2) of their combined total area of 5314 km2 was considered urban green space. The average area of urban green space across all local government areas was approximately 15% but there were wide fluctuations: some inner city and major centres, for example, reported green space of 5%, while a council on the fringe of Sydney reported 66%. It is important to note that the interpretation of what constitutes urban green space varied enormously between councils. Some councils reported only the area of green space they managed while others included national parks and reserves managed by the State Government. Because of the inadequacy of the data, it was not possible to determine trends for green space. Neither the condition of green space within local government areas nor whether the amount of green space had increased or decreased was assessed in the survey.

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Noise impacts on urban amenity

Noise pollution can be defined as unwanted offensive noise that unreasonably intrudes on daily activities. In urban areas, noise pollution has many sources, most associated with urban development: road, rail and air transport; industrial noise; and neighbourhood and recreational noise. A number of factors contribute to problems of high noise levels including:

  • increasing population, particularly where it involves greater urbanisation and urban consolidation
  • increasing volumes of road, rail and air traffic.

Amenity may be affected by the annoyance caused by noise. The level of annoyance or discomfort depends on a number of factors, including the type, timing, duration and frequency of noise or if the disturbance is out of the ordinary, that is, differs from the 'background' noise.

Studies have shown that environmental noise is having an increasing effect on residents because of higher residential densities and traffic volumes and the 24-hour city (Newton et al. 2001). It is estimated that 1.5 million residents in Sydney are exposed to outdoor noise levels which may affect sleep and amenity; as defined by the OECD, this is noise between 55 and 65 decibels (dB(A)). An estimated 350,000 of these residents experience unacceptable noise levels where behaviour patterns may be constrained and health effects demonstrable; this is noise greater than 65dB(A) (ABS 1997). In particular, residences in Sydney fronting arterial roads and rail corridors have been shown to experience elevated noise levels and possibly reduced amenity (Read et al. 1995).

Local councils, the EPA and NSW Police all receive complaints about noise. Local councils are thought to take the most but statistics on the total number of noise complaints received by councils is not available. The data below on complaints should therefore be considered indicative only. Noise complaints are also not necessarily regarded as an accurate measure of the impact of noise and typically understate it. For example, most European Union countries are now mapping noise in urban areas with more than 250,000 people and using it as a better indicator of environmental noise levels and trends.

The EPA Pollution Line received 1255 noise complaints in 2002–03, accounting for 12% of all incident calls about activities regulated by the authority (see Figure 2.15). This was an increase over the previous year when 1088 noise-related calls were received, accounting for 10% of total calls.

Figure 2.15: EPA Pollution Line incident calls, 2002–03

Figure 2.15

Download Data

Source: EPA data, as at July 2003

Note A total of 10,629 incident calls were received by Pollution Line in 2002–03 (11,228 in 2001–02).

In 2002–03, there were 5819 requests for information about noise issues to Pollution Line or 14.5% of all information calls received. Of these, about one-quarter related to activities regulated by local government.

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Odour impacts on urban amenity

The concept of 'odour' appears in the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) in the definition of 'air impurity', which includes smoke, dust (including fly-ash), cinders, solid particles of any kind, gases, fumes, mists, odours and radioactive substances. The Act also uses the concept of 'offensive odour' and makes evidence of offensive odour at a scheduled premise's property boundary an offence.

Odours are difficult to regulate: individuals can react differently to them and they come from a range of diffuse and point sources. Additionally, climatic or seasonal conditions, such as very calm weather, can exacerbate odour impacts, even at great distances from the source. Increasing population growth and urban development in Sydney has resulted in residential areas encroaching on areas once only used for agricultural or industrial activities. The expansion of residential development on Sydney's urban fringe is resulting in the loss of buffer zones created to minimise land-use conflicts between housing and agriculture and industry. Odour problems are considered one such conflict, with sources such as abattoirs, piggeries, poultry farms, sewage treatment plants, landfills and chemical manufacturing plants causing amenity problems.

Between July 1996 and July 1998, there were complaints about odour from 215 licensed premises and 134 unlicensed premises in NSW. It is estimated that between 350,000 and 850,000 NSW people suffer significant loss of amenity due to odours and that about 20 new odour sources appear in the State each year (Atech Group 2000).

Local councils are believed to receive the most complaints about odour. However, the total number of complaints they take is not available. The data below on complaints should therefore be considered indicative only.

In 2002–03, approximately 80% of all air pollution complaints (or 4248 complaints) made to the EPA Pollution Line were associated with odour. This accounted for 40% of the total number of complaints (see Figure 2.15). The majority of the odour calls are generally from areas on the urban-rural interface and from regional centres outside Sydney. The number of complaints decreased from the 5315 received the year before.

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Response to the issue

A wide range of management options is available to prevent future impacts on amenity in urban areas and manage existing ones. Land-use planning and the introduction of integrated development assessment under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 play a key role in helping to avoid or minimise impacts. The POEO Act provides regulatory tools for managing impacts from new and existing developments. Non-regulatory approaches also have an important role in addressing existing local amenity problems and the use of these should be considered before regulatory approaches.

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Land-use planning

Enhancing and maintaining green space

The importance of green space to the community has been widely acknowledged and both local and state governments use planning processes and other initiatives to maintain, protect or enhance it in urban areas.

Provisions for community land management have been incorporated into the Local Government Act 1993 requiring local councils to classify their open space lands and develop management plans with the community for their ongoing use and maintenance. This move not only recognises the value of open space but means that the uses permitted on these lands are determined with the community's involvement.

The GreenWeb Action Plan for Sydney Councils (SROC 1998) was developed in partnership by the various Regional Organisations of Councils in the Sydney region. The plan proposes measures to protect, conserve and enhance remnant native bushland in the region. These include the creation of buffer zones around existing bushland to minimise the impacts of urban pressures, revegetate where possible, and manage and plan green space consistently across Sydney. The Commonwealth Government has contributed funds to implement the plan.

The Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources (DIPNR) has established a number of programs in partnership with local councils, community groups and other government agencies to improve the 'liveability' and the amenity of urban areas. These include:

  • the Metropolitan Green Space Grants Program to assist councils in the GMR develop and plan regionally significant open space and enable more effective use of these areas
  • the Urban Improvement Program, which provides funding and resources to revitalise urban places around Sydney's transport hubs, including the creation of quality public spaces for recreation, culture and leisure
  • the Living Centres Program with funding for eight centres in rural and metropolitan NSW to manage change and plan for sustainable futures.

Preventing noise and odour impacts

Noise and/or odour problems can often be prevented or minimised by avoiding the location of sensitive land uses, such as residential areas, schools, hospitals, nursing homes or places of worship, near noisy or odour-generating premises.

The land-use planning process and careful site selection plays a critical role in avoiding conflict between neighbouring land uses. In cases where inappropriate land-use decisions have caused noise or odour in residential and other sensitive areas, it is often difficult to find an agreeable compromise between residents' rights to amenity and the industries' pre-existing right to operate under planning laws. Controls to minimise odour, noise and other emissions from industrial premises can be used, but this often does not remedy poor planning decisions.

The Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 governs land-use planning approvals. Under the Act, local environmental plans (LEPs) prepared by local councils provide the framework for land use and conservation in an area. LEPs, together with regional strategies and plans prepared by DIPNR, provide the strategic direction for urban planning in a region. The plans set out the preferred land use in particular areas and nominate the types of development which require development consent or are prohibited in that area. Additionally, developments of a certain size require consultation with the community.

Some councils have addressed noise issues within their LEPs and have development control plans that provide acceptable noise criteria for development where problems are more likely. Councils can also implement noise control measures as part of the development approval for subdivisions and individual developments, and may include specific conditions of consent to address noise issues (EPA 2002).

In 1998, integrated development assessment was introduced as part of the land-use planning system administered by DIPNR to improve planning decisions and streamline the development approval process. Certain proposals require development consent not only from the council or the Minister for Planning, but also a permit or licence from other State Government agencies, such as the EPA. Where this is the case, the development application is referred to the necessary agency so that there is an integrated assessment of the proposal. This provides a mechanism for environmental performance requirements to be considered from the beginning of the development approval process. The process of multi-agency assessment allows closer consideration of potentially contentious issues, including the potential for noise or odour, in the initial planning stages and is aimed at averting cases of incompatible land uses and maintaining or improving amenity.

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Legislative framework for noise and odour control

Managing noise impacts

The POEO Act and the Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation 2000 provide the legal framework and basis for managing unacceptable noise in NSW. The POEO Act identifies responsibility for regulating noise and empowers the EPA, Waterways Authority, local government and NSW Police to use a range of regulatory tools to address noise, including noise control notices, prevention notices, and noise abatement directions and orders.

In NSW no single government authority has the responsibility or capacity to manage all forms of noise pollution. Table 2.9 shows the enforcement authority responsible for various types of noise in NSW.

Table 2.9: Government agency responsibilities for noise issues

Type of noise

Enforcement authority


Air Services Australia

Barking dogs


Road traffic

Roads and Traffic Authority for road operation

Car sound systems

Councils, EPA, NSW Police

Car and house alarms

Councils, NSW Police

Noisy neighbours

Councils, NSW Police

Garbage collections




Building and construction


Household appliances


Noise from clubs/pubs

Liquor Administration Board



Industrial noise

Councils, EPA


Waterways Authority

Managing odour impacts

Under the POEO Act, it is an offence for the operator of any facility to cause air pollution, including odour, through a failure to maintain or operate equipment or to deal with materials in a proper and efficient manner. Any scheduled premises or activity licensed by the EPA may be required to meet conditions designed to prevent or minimise odour. The EPA has responsibility for enforcing this requirement for licensed activities or for activities owned and operated by the State or a public authority. For non-scheduled activities or unlicensed premises, local councils are responsible for enforcing odour minimisation requirements and responding to odour complaints. The Local Government Act 1993 contains provisions for public nuisance under which local government can take action against odours.

The EPA encourages industry to become involved with the local community to resolve odour problems and requires many facilities to maintain their own registers of odour complaints.

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Guidance on managing noise and odour impacts

A range of guidance material is available to manage noise and odour impacts including:

A policy to manage noise from the NSW rail network is currently being developed by the EPA. This policy will provide detailed guidance for assessing and controlling the impact of rail noise.

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Effectiveness of responses

The lack of complete data on the extent and condition of urban green space appears to reflect an under-appreciation of what is becoming an increasingly valuable community asset. This also applies to information on the impacts of noise and odours on the quality of life. Integrated development assessment has provided a mechanism to help prevent the loss of amenity. However, baseline data and agreed assessment and predictive models are still needed to further assist in preventing problems and dealing with complaints.

To date, the NSW Industrial Noise Policy and Environmental Criteria for Road Traffic Noise have been well received and extensively used in both industrial and road-related developments. It should be possible to review the workability and effectiveness of these policies in reducing noise impacts in the next few years.

The impact of noise on human health is emerging as an increasingly significant issue that will require larger management effort in the future.

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Future directions

Communities can identify amenity values at the local level so that these can be adequately considered in future planning initiatives.

Government, developers and industry need to ensure that the extent of green space and the potential for noise and odour impacts are addressed where appropriate at each of the following stages: planning; industry design; construction; and management of operations.

It is particularly important that governments ensure that land-use compatibility is considered during initial planning. Where development proposals have already been granted to locate residential and industry close to one another, the siting of less sensitive land uses, such as commercial developments, next to major noise sources and the establishment of buffer zones can help minimise conflicts and retain amenity.

Industry and communities need to work together to solve existing noise and odour problems and community members can provide feedback on the value of control options implemented by industry. Governments could also encourage standards for quieter machinery and vehicles.

State and local governments need to work more closely to develop consistent inventories of green space to enable tracking of trends in the management of these important assets.

Linked issues

2.1 Population and settlement patterns

2.4 Transport

3.3 Urban air quality

4.2 Land-use changes

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