Australia — The Victorian Government has confirmed it is changing a controversial planning law, introduced as a result of the Black Saturday Royal Commission, that has prevented thousands of people from building on their land.
The Bushfire Management Overlay (BMO) was put in place in 2011 to ensure houses built on bush blocks could be reasonably protected in the event of a fire.
But the regulations were so strict more than 5,000 land holders have been prevented from building on their land.
Many owners of existing homes on certain bush blocks would not be able to rebuild if something happened to their house.
The Planning Minister Matthew Guy says changes will be made early next year to balance the Royal Commission’s recommendation with people’s right to live in the bush.
“I expect those changes will be very straight forward to allow residents to be able to build on their properties particularly on land that’s been deemed unbuildable at this point of time,” he said.
“What we’re going to do is ensure private land, private risk. That principal is paramount and importantly Victorians will be aware of their fire risk before they build.”
Landowners like Christine Snow have expressed their relief at the decision.
She and her husband bought a bush block in the Dandenong Ranges for her daughter to live in about five years ago.
But by the time they got around to building on the Kalorama property the BMO was in place and they were told they were unlikely to be granted a permit.
“We’re having to help supplement my daughter’s income so she can pay rent and mortgage, and the rates and the interest – on a virtually worthless block of land,” she said.
“She did get very depressed over it she thought her life was over thinking about declaring bankruptcy and walking away.
“It has been a very taxing time and I’m glad finally the end is in sight and we can finally build a house for my daughter now and she can get on with her life.”
Under the current BMO, if landowners do not meet regulations like minimum defendable space and emergency access requirements, they are refused permission to build.
Yarra Ranges Council has been one of the council’s lobbying against the BMO. Mayor Fiona McAllister says Ms Snow’s story is not an isolated case.
“(They’ve) discovered through the process they can’t build on their block and are saddled with a mortgage and nowhere to go,” she said.
“Some of them (are) being pushed into depression, borderline suicidal, financial ruin.
“If the Minister says he’ll deliver what he says he’s going to – it’s an incredible outcome for the community,” she said.
Councillor McAllister says she believes robust construction standards are a better way to balance people’s right to live in the bush with safety.