Australia — A COMMUNITY hall being built in one of the areas hit hardest by Black Saturday has become an unlikely national benchmark for accommodating survivor needs amid the grave risks of rebuilding in some disaster-affected towns.
Victoria’s Country Fire Authority raised serious concerns about building the Flowerdale Community House on a site near where 10 people died in 2009.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal also raised questions about inconsistencies in the risk-assessment framework that covers the post-Black Saturday bushfire recovery effort.
While authorities grappled with the danger of building, the project was embraced by the local community, which argued it needed a hub for counselling, food-sharing programs, and youth and play groups.
“We are just so excited about it. We try and be completely led by what the community want,” co-ordinator Odette Hunter said.
Tribunal member Philip Martin said risk-assessment guidelines needed tightening for institutional buildings such as the Flowerdale hall.
He urged public authorities to adopt a consistent approach when working out bushfire activity levels, which dictated the bushfire prevention measures used in buildings.
The CFA initially opposed the construction, saying the risk had been understated, while Murrindindi Shire Council strongly supported the project.
“It is clear from council’s submissions to me that the current differences of interpretation are causing frustration and the tribunal’s findings in this proceeding were not made any easier by the different positions taken by council compared to the CFA,” Mr Martin said.
The Australian has spoken to many bushfire victims who have faced the same planning challenges amid confusion about bushfire activity levels and standards for building houses.
Greens MP Greg Barber said hundreds of houses were being built in bushfire zones each year and confusion was common.
“And it’s clear it’s going to continue,” he said.
The CFA said the hall, in Hazeldene-Flowerdale, was in the direct flame zone and should have been built to higher safety standards. It warned that scrub in the nearby creek reserve was very high-risk and there was an “inherently high bushfire risk” on the site.
After amendments to the plan, Mr Martin backed the site because it was in the community interest to have a hall, he said.