Good fences make good neighbours

With residential developments being approved for historically industrial areas, asphalt plant operators are facing new challenges in mitigating complaints and conflicts over emissions.At the start of November last year, two new suburbs were officially unveiled in Melbourne’s north – Donnybrook and Woodstock.

The new areas will be developed over the next 30 years, with the aim to home 17,000 dwellings. Melbourne’s growth doesn’t stop here either.

The state government announced that 17 new suburbs (including Donnybrook and Woodstock) will be created in the city’s outer north, north-west and south-east, and 100,000 lots of land will be rezoned in these key growth areas.

With a swathe of new suburbs popping up and the city’s population projected to grow from 4.5 million to almost 8 million by 2051, according to the Victorian Government’s Plan Melbourne 2017 – 2050 summary document, the city’s urban sprawl is well and truly growing.

Similarly, the city’s existing suburbs and urban areas are being adapted in their own way to cater to the increased in population and demand for housing.

Craig Beyers, Manager Consulting Services at Assured Monitoring Group, explains that planning policies across major cities in Australia actively encourage increased dwelling density, sustainable infill development and transit orientated development to maximise land use and minimise urban sprawl.

However, he says, sustainable infill development closer to city centres presents a significant challenge to the asphalt industry.

“What we’re seeing at the state government level is that most planning now places emphasis on development and intensification of specific zones, including former industrial areas, fringe industrial areas and surplus government land,” Mr. Beyers says. “With residential housing now increasingly being approved for areas that once acted as buffer zones from industrial areas, the potential for complaint and conflict over asphalt plant emissions is increasing.”

With residential development expanding, asphalt plants and operations traditionally situated in these ‘buffer zones’ or industrial areas are now facing new challenges in this space.

These developments, Mr. Beyers explains, can trigger a town planning approval process that attempts to balance the competing interests of existing industrial operators and housing developers.

“This process though gives rise to potential complaints and damaging public relations coverage for existing asphalt facilities. Post-approval, the potential conflict can continue and we’re already seeing cases of this, whether it’s in regard to potential health effects of emissions, or when facilities seek an amendment to their operations,” he says. “Either way, the sustainability, growth and economic viability of these facilities can be compromised or hampered.”

Taking a proactive approach to protect both asphalt plant and neighbours in this situation is a path Mr. Beyers suggests.

He says timely investigation and strategic planning can offer some protection for asphalt plants looking to avoid this conflict and the potential associated costly remedial or relocation works.

“Taking the lead on the issue before a problem arises and seeking out professional assessment to provide the means for strategic planning can maintain harmony with the community as well as protect the commercial viability of the plant. This enables the company to foresee potential future complaints and issues, and make production and equipment decisions to avoid them,” Mr. Beyers explains.

Over the life of an asphalt plant, decisions are made about what products to make, when to produce them, what equipment to purchase and where to place it, Mr. Beyers asserts. “Understanding how the odour emitted from the various products can influence the surrounding area provides valuable information that can inform a number of these choices and therefore minimise the potential for complaint or conflict.”

As the market leans towards the production of more environmentally sustainable pavement products, such as reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP) and crumbed rubber asphalt (CRA) – sourced from end-of-life tyres – for instance, Mr. Beyers says asphalt producers will need to consider how the odour emissions will differ from traditional hot mix asphalt production, and how to circumnavigate any land use planning conflicts that may arise.

“Consideration should be given to the barriers created by existing land uses in the area and the design of the plant before embarking on widespread production of RAP or CRA blends. While these barriers are not insurmountable, achieving long-term compliance will likely, in many cases, require a range of additional controls to be incorporated into the design of the plant, including increased stack release heights and blue smoke capture and treatment systems,” Mr. Beyers says,

“As changes are made to the operation of an asphalt plant, understanding how these changes could influence the ability of the plant to operate can assist in minimising the potential for regulatory compliance issues.”

Mr. Beyers says there are a number of examples around Australia where a lack of understanding (often by regulators and planning authorities) of the influence of odour emissions from a plant have resulted in community complaints and regulatory involvement.

“Ultimately, these external factors can lead to difficult decisions about capital upgrades and in some cases, the viability of a particular site or operation which had they been considered in advance, may have been avoided.”

However, Mr. Beyers says a professional assessment of a plant will give its management three essential pieces of information they can use to minimise emissions and therefore also minimise the risk of complaint.

“These are understanding what odour is being generated now and where the influence of the site extends, how changes to production can influence odour generation, and the ability to consider odour emission as a key part of any design or capital purchase process so that plant designs, whether new or upgraded, are able to continue to operate into the future,” he says.

“Seeking advice prior to changes in production and plant operations can also protect the facility from costly mistakes.”

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