In 2011 Western Australia suffered several devastating bushfires that razed both public and private land, destroying livestock, infrastructure, businesses and several homes. The most widely publicized of these events were the Perth Hills fire, which destroyed land in Armadale/Kelmscott and Gidgegannup/Red Hill, and the Margaret River fire, which consumed 3,400 hectares of Crown land and destroyed 32 homes.
A review of these incidents found several significant shortfalls in the planning, management and response to bushfire events throughout the State, with identified deficiencies in prescribed burning regimes, emergency management co-ordination and public/private land management. These reviews have now amalgamated into a more comprehensive assessment of bush fire management in Western Australia via the Bushfire Review Implementation Group reporting to the Department of Premier and Cabinet.
Overcoming Shortfalls in Planning, Management and Response
The shift to a more consistent and regulated method of implementing best practice standards of planning for bushfire prevention and protection is something that should be embraced by planners, land developers, government agencies and the general public. The standards applicable under Planning for Bushfire Protection have been shown to significantly decrease the risk to lives, property and infrastructure, and should be regularly implemented where a real and present threat exists.
Policy and Legislation Reviews
With respect to matters influencing town planning and development, we understand that the existing policy and legislative framework is considered to be reflective of best practice standards, but is either poorly or inconsistently implemented by the responsible State and local government authorities.
In order to address these deficiencies, we understand that the State government, through the Department of Planning, the Department of Premier and Cabinet and FESA, are likely to revise legislation and policy to ensure that the required standards are made mandatory wherever a bushfire threat is considered to exist. The policy/legislation measures likely to be reviewed are outlined as follows:
- Identification of Bushfire Prone Areas: At present the identification and mapping of bushfire prone areas is required to be undertaken as a component of any strategic plan, scheme amendment or structure plan in relation to land with a known bushfire threat. The onus on individual applicants or local governments to undertake such an assessment means that many areas are left with either no assessment or an assessment that is outdated and largely irrelevant. In order to address these inconsistencies it is understood that the State government intends to ensure that bushfire prone areas mapping is undertaken for the State as a whole. This is considered likely to be undertaken by a State government agency or through individual local governments under direction from the State government.
- Requirement for Bushfire Management Plans: Although bushfire management plans have been a common requirement in rural-residential and outer metropolitan developments for the past 20 years, these plans are often simplistic and are rarely enforced. It is understood that these plans will become more of a focal point for agreement between developers and government in the future, particularly with respect to vegetation management and the identification of emergency management infrastructure to be installed by developers.
- Dwelling Construction to AS3959 Standards: The construction of a dwelling in accordance with Australian Standard 3959 is commonly recommended where a dwelling is to be located within 100m of a bushfire hazard. Although recommended in Planning for Bushfire Protection, TBB understands that local governments rarely require AS3959 in the approval of building permits. It is understood that the State government, along with several local governments, intend to make AS3959 a mandatory standard in bushfire prone areas through modifications to legislation.
- Legal Requirement for Property Maintenance: The requirement for private property maintenance to prevent bushfires is predominantly limited to the clearing of ‘fire breaks’, or a 6m wide corridor immediately adjacent the property boundary. It is understood that local governments will be encouraged to require further clearing and maintenance of private property in the future, particularly through the requirement for a 20m Building Protection Zone immediately surrounding a dwelling.
How Proposed Changes Impact Planning and Development
In considering the proposed modifications to legislation and policy, there are a number of matters that may impact the development industry and should be carefully monitored over the coming years. We currently advise clients that intend to develop property within 100m of a moderate or extreme bushfire hazard that the following project risks will need to be factored:
- Time Delays: The shift in importance associated with planning for bushfire protection will likely catch many local governments unprepared. The potential need for municipal wide hazard assessment and modifications to local planning schemes and/or policy will require significant resources and take approximately 12-36 months to complete. This will result in a period of uncertainty within individual local governments, and may delay the assessment of key planning applications where they are considered to be inconsistent with draft strategic, policy or legislative review.
- Increased Project Costs: The current review is likely to result in an expectation that developers in bushfire prone areas will be responsible for a higher level of reporting, for the provision of a wider level of emergency management infrastructure and for a higher level of dwelling construction. Whilst these costs may be suitably managed throughout the life of a development, they will need to be monitored in the context of the current review and the ongoing implementation by local government.
More Information and Related Links
- Western Australia’s Bushfire Review Implementation Group reports to the Department of Premier and Cabinet.
- Department of Planning WA – Planning for Bushfire Protection
- The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (Formerly FESA)
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