Australia — Victoria is to change state planning laws which should make it easier to build in bushfire-prone areas. The state’s Planning Minister announced this morning he would relax some of the requirements introduced after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.
One local mayor says the amendments will save many landowners from financial ruin and despair.
Samantha Donovan explains.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: After years of saving, Jacqui McIntosh and her partner finally managed to buy a picturesque block of land at Cockatoo in Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges in 2010.
JACQUI MCINTOSH: Basically, we put everything into trying to get into the housing market in any way we could. So we got loans, we maxed out the credit cards, we did absolutely everything to get this one block of land so that one day, we could build a house.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: But a year later, the Victorian Government changed the planning laws in keeping with the recommendations of the Black Saturday Bushfires Royal Commission, and Jacqui McIntosh’s hopes of building her dream home plummeted.
JACQUI MCINTOSH: I was informed to get an opinion of a bushfire expert, which I did, and he told me over the phone basically that our land was worth nothing and that we couldn’t build on it.
He didn’t go and see the land – just off Google Maps. From that phone call, news has just gotten worse. We’ve had to pay rent as well as the mortgage on the block for the last few years. We’re currently living on the block of land in a pop-top caravan.
We were given a valuation a few months ago of $10,000.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Jacqui McIntosh and her partner had paid $135,000 for the acre block.
After years of lobbying by landowners, the Victorian Planning Minister Matthew Guy this morning announced several changes to the bushfire planning laws. He says they introduce fairness to the system but don’t contradict the findings of the Bushfires Royal Commission.
They include ensuring the assessment of the bushfire risk is consistent with the Australian standard, bushfire bunkers may be allowed in high risk areas, and vegetation clearance will be allowed so people have a greater chance of defending their property.
A $700,000 fund is also being set up to give grants to landowners who need help with the revised planning process.
The problems with the bushfire planning scheme was one of the reasons Fiona McAllister stood for her local council. She’s now the Mayor of the Yarra Ranges and elated by the changes announced today.
FIONA MCALLISTER: The inability to build on properties, whether it be on fringe urban areas in the Yarra Valley or in the Dandenongs, has created almost financial ruin, incredible stress, mental health issues. People have their money and their lives tied up in a property and a dream and haven’t been able to do anything with it.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Are you confident though that the changes brought in today will still ensure that people are building safely in these bushfire prone-areas?
FIONA MCALLISTER: Yeah, absolutely. They’ll be the safest properties in the area. A couple of people I’ve spoken to today, they’re surrounded by little cottages that were built 30 years ago out of timber, and they’ll be building something to the Australian Construction Standards which… nothing is impenetrable, but certainly the safety of them will be so much improved to all of the other properties in the area.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The Housing Industry Association’s Kristin Brookfield is also pleased with the changes to Victoria’s bushfire planning laws.
KRISTIN BROOKFIELD: The system to date has been very complicated in how the planning process and the building process have overlapped. There’s been inconsistencies in that approach, and certainly today’s announcement indicates there’ll be some improvement in that.
SAMANTHA DONOVAN: And for block owner Jacqui McIntosh, today’s announcement is a turning point.
JACQUI MCINTOSH: Well it gives us some hope at least. Yesterday we didn’t have any. From what we’ve heard, it just sounds fantastic, especially the grant that’s being offered to help people in our situation get planning permission. So it sounds wonderful – it’s just a massive relief.
MARK COLVIN: Victorian landowner Jacqui McIntosh ending Samantha Donovan’s report.