Planning laws fail to protect us from bushfire

Planninglaws fail to protect us from bushfire

7 February 2007

published by

Australia — Opinion of Sandy Boulter LLB and Margaret River, Nedlands

Recent loss of life and homes in bushfires that raged across Australia raisesthe question of what our government planners are doing to ensure land releasesare as safe as can be from fire and our homes are fire proofed.

We face an extreme fire hazard risk in many WA residential and holiday areasincluding for example, in the tiny coastal hamlets such as Gracetown andGnarabup on the Leeuwin Naturaliste coastal ridge in the Margaret River region.

The WA Planning Commission continues to grant subdivision of coastal land forresidential and tourist use on the Ridge, notwithstanding its 2003classification by fire experts as Extreme Bushfire Hazard category under theState government published guidelines, “Planning for Bush Fire Protection”.

The Planning Commission does not require a memorial on the title of newlysubdivided lots warning of the extreme fire hazard, thereby alerting purchasersto the fire risk.

Neither the Planning Commission nor local governments are required by law torequire the Australian Standard AS3959 “Construction of Buildings in Bush FireProne Areas” as a condition of approval of subdivision or development on theselots.

Real estate agents are not required by law to inform purchasers or lessees ofthe fire hazard rating of land.

The insurance industry does not require houses in extreme fire risk areas to bebuilt to Australian Standard AS3959 to obtain insurance cover.

Local governments do not have the resources (or probably the power) to refusedevelopment applications by sole reason of the critical fire hazard rating ofthe land.

Lack of resources means that local governments cannot monitor and enforceappropriate bush fire hazard separation zones between land and buildings.

Neither the Planning Commission nor the local government are sufficientlyresourced to ensure that there is an available and continuing adequate watersupply to fight fires in all extreme fire risk developments, whatever theconditions.

Local volunteer fire brigades are severely under-resourced.

Local governments do not generally require Fire Evacuation Plans to be ondisplay in every single house built in extreme fire hazard areas.

There is often only one narrow road that leads both in and out of small coastaldevelopments on the Ridge. Emergency vehicles travelling towards the fire willclash with people trying to escape.

Is it legally negligent of the State government to approve the subdivision ofland and approve development in such risky places, or is it just morally andethically reprehensible land development for profit?

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