Rebuilding after Vic bushfire ‘too slow’

Rebuilding after Vic bushfire ‘too slow’

7 July 2009

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Australia — Rebuilding after the Black Saturday fires is taking too long and is in danger of stalling as it did in Canberra following the 2003 fires, builders say.

The executive director of Victoria’s Master Builders Association, Brian Welch, said only about 80 building permits had been issued to construct new houses despite nearly 2,200 being destroyed.

Bureaucracies, new safety regulations and planning policies presented most of the hurdles to rebuilding, Mr Welch said.

People who had lost their homes and hadn’t decided what to do had also been responsible for the slow recovery, he said.

“Canberra, a few years later, is still a smile with many teeth missing in the reconstruction process,” he told a Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) lunch in Melbourne on Tuesday.

“Do I really think it’s going to be any different in Victoria? No.

“We should keep planning out of it to the maximum extent possible and leave most decisions with the building surveyors.”

Mr Welch said he believed people falsely thought new building regulations would be a panacea that would protect their homes from fires.

“These houses and these new regulations will give a higher level of protection but it will not be a place in which you can rely on that your life will be saved in that structure,” he said.

“It will be a terrible thing if people thought that.

“We also have to marry that issue of regulations with letting people deal with native vegetation as they see appropriate around their properties so there’s not an abundance of fuel load.”

The head of the Victorian Bushfire Recovery and Reconstruction Authority, Christine Nixon, told the same audience she believed lessons had been learnt since Canberra.

She announced that the mammoth Black Saturday clean-up – part of the largest rebuilding program in Victoria’s history – was almost over, exactly five months after Australia’s worst bushfire disaster.

It was announced on Tuesday that almost 97 per cent of the 3,019 properties registered for government-funded clean-up had been cleared.

Ms Nixon told reporters that many victims who had lost their houses were only just starting to decide what to do with their properties.

“The council planning is in place, insurance paid out and the fund has given people money, but I think we are seeing people sitting on it,” she said.

“They are saying: let me sort my head out here, sort out what I want to do with my life.”

Building expos and advisory centres are being provided for victims rebuilding and the authority would ensure bushfire-ravaged towns would survive, she said.

CSIRO sustainable ecosystems research scientist Justin Leonard said he believed safer houses and better educated communities were needed to reduce the damage wreaked by bushfires.

“We can build a house to a really effective design standard for its particular distance from the bush, but that might be immediately adjacent to a house not built to any particular standard at all,” he said.

“Until we marry building regulations with planning policy we’ve got problems.”

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