Tribunal orders farmer to replant firebreak

Tribunal orders farmer to replant firebreak

22 August 2009

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Australia — A land owner’s attempt to protect his neighbours from bushfires has backfired – he has been ordered to replant land he cleared.

Despite overwhelming support from residents of the small Gippsland community of Langsborough, which narrowly escaped the Black Saturday fires, Jo Van Gaal has lost an 18-month battle with Wellington Shire Council.

It objected to him clearing parts of his 21ha block east of Wilsons Promontory.

Mr Van Gaal said he was initially instructed to clear the land by the council’s fire prevention officers, so he was shocked to receive a $550 fine in early 2007.

The land – until recently a farm with 80 horses and 560 cattle – was mostly bottle-brush scrub with few mature trees, he said.

“There are 30 or so houses at Langsborough that will go if a fire ever gets through there,” he said.

“I wanted to retire on that land and run a few horses and cattle. Now they seem to be dictating what I can do with it.”

VCAT ordered the replanting of about 8ha even though it acknowledged the land had been used as a dump by locals for many years.

It said: “We acknowledge that residents of Langsborough would prefer the whole of this land to function as a semi-cleared fire break.

“However, we are not convinced this would necessarily be a guarantee of protection for the township from fire and it ignores the environmental values of the vegetation.

“We acknowledge the public-spirited motives for Mr Van Gaal’s actions, but cannot condone them by ignoring his breach of the planning scheme or waiving any requirement for rehabilitation to be undertaken.”

Langsborough resident Anne Collins said the community was very concerned by the decision. The land was overgrown and a fire hazard.

The battle to clear the land comes as Federal MP Fran Bailey slammed the interim report from the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission for failing to address the issue of fuel reduction.

“People are bewildered and angry about that,” said Ms Bailey, whose electorate of McEwan was home to most of the 173 people who died on Black Saturday.

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