Australia — The group of bushfire-affected landholders say they weren’t notified of the changes to planning laws which rezoned their land for agricultural use and are calling for the State Government to allow them to rebuild their homes.
Callignee was one of the hardest hit areas during the Black Saturday bushfires.
Murray Sanders, a landholder in the area and a lobby group member, lost his house, cattle, fences and horses during the fires.
He and his wife moved from the area and were unable to return for years due to illness.
They decided to move back to Callignee 15 months ago but when Mr Sanders enquired about building on the smaller of their two properties he was told by Latrobe City Council that the area was now classified as a farming zone.
According to the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure, the zone sets aside land for agricultural use to encourage employment in rural areas.
It also means that if the land under the zone is less than 40 hectares, or 100 acres, it can’t be built on.
Mr Sanders and his wife decided to retire from farming after the bushfires and they say they can’t afford to keep both of the two pieces of land they own.
Their farm is 126 acres, they also own a 19 acre block next to the farm.
They had planned on selling the farm in order to build on the smaller block, Mr Sanders says the smaller piece of land is now worthless because it can’t be built on.
“I was devastated, when you’ve got nothing and then you find you’ve got less than nothing. That’s pretty horrible,” he says.
Mr Sanders says he was advised by Latrobe City Council that if he returned to build on the farm, he could apply later to subdivide the property.
He says it was a gamble that was too expensive to take.
“If I had to take a loan out to build a new house and they wouldn’t consider it, I’d be left with nothing. I’d have to sell everything,” Mr Sanders says.
He says there are a lot of landholders in Callignee who are in similar situations.
“They’ve put their life savings into these properties and now they’re worth nothing. I hope politicians will see some common sense,” he says.