Doing their block in Ferny Creek

Doing their block in Ferny Creek

22 May 2012

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 Australia — A YOUNG couple plans to return to New Zealand after enduring a nightmare 2 1/2 year battle to win the right to build a house on a high-bushfire risk block in the hills.

And their plight has once again ignited calls for a government buy-back scheme for land deemed no-go zones for housing.

>> Should some areas be declared no-go building zones in the hills?

Aaron and Nadia Johnson moved to Australia about three years ago and purchased a block of land in Mount View Rd, Ferny Creek, after being told by the Yarra Ranges Council they could build there.

A rigorous planning process followed, where the couple said they did everything possible to prepare their home for the threat of bushfires and meet strict planning guidelines.

The couple was finally awarded a planning permit at council’s May 8 meeting, despite a council report recommending councillors refuse it because of the “threat to life and property from wildfire”.

One of the conditions of the permit is that the couple must build an underground fire bunker at the property.

At the meeting Cr Noel Cliff supported the couple and said unless the council awarded the permit the couple would be left with “a picnic ground in the Dandenongs” because they couldn’t build on it.

Cr Len Cox said the block of land was worthless without a permit and refusing applications like this had the potential to “financially ruin people for life”.

Cr Terry Avery said until the State Government chose to buy back land, council couldn’t tell people they couldn’t build on blocks like this.

There have been ongoing calls for the Dandenongs to be included in the State Government’s buy-back scheme.

But Clare Siddins, for Bushfire Response Minister Peter Ryan, said a clear priority of the Royal Commission was to offer an option to buy back land from landowners whose primary home was destroyed during the 2009 bushfires.

Meanwhile the couple has now put the block of land back up for sale and plans to move back to New Zealand with their seven-month-old daughter Harriett, because of the long and expensive battle to get the permit.

“It has honestly been a nightmare,” Mr Johnson said.

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