Family’s home to be demolished after tribunal rules it a bushfire risk

Family’s home to be demolished after tribunal rules it a bushfire risk

17 April 2015

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Australia — A Canberra family will be evicted and their home of 26 years will be demolished after a court ruled their property was too great a risk in the event of a bushfire.

The Crockford family, who lived for decades at the ACT government-owned property Yalgum​ on the edge of Kowen Forest outside Queanbeyan, lost an appeal in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal to stay on the land, after a battle with the Commissioner for Social Housing in the ACT.

The Crockfords initially approached the owners of the run-down property in November 1988, and after agreeing to a lease, began renovating and improving the home while living in a caravan on the site.

In 2006 and 2010, bushfire reports raised concerns about the residents becoming trapped in the event of a large fire, with limited escape routes along the Kings Highway. The tenants argued they had several possible escape routes but signed an undertaking to leave and not attempt to defend the property in the event of a large fire.

But a 2013 report found, “structures at the premises are not defensible and survival possibility is zero per cent whether the fire is attended or not”.

The hearing had heard that the situation had become more dangerous for the Crockfords due to changes to the Kings Highway, with one of the previous escape routes fenced off as part of the road changes and the property would need a significant upgrade to protect it from ember attack through the roof and the underfloor area.

Despite those concerns, Mr Crockford argued the property could be defended in the event of a fire and questioned why other recreational users and forest workers were not also unsafe if in the area. The property sits alongside two popular mountain bike trails at Kowen Forest and across the road at Sparrow Hill. He said the family had its own emergency plans which had been discussed with Parks and Conservation management.

In considering whether the ACT government’s attempts to evict the Crockfords from Yalgum were in breach of the ACT Human Rights Act, the tribunal said that while it found the matter heartbreaking, and accepted the emotional attachment to the property after 26 years, the government’s actions were not unlawful or a breach of the Human Rights Act.

“Although the tribunal is satisfied that the tenants are very attached to and have an enormous investment, in many ways, in the premises, the tribunal does not consider that any of the matters raised by the tenants outweigh or alleviate the concerns for the tenants’ safety,” senior member Wilhelmena Corby​ said in her reasons for the decision.

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