Reducing the Risk of Bushfire
In early 2014, the Department of Planning (DoP) released for public comment the revised State Planning Policy 3.7 Planning for Bushfire Risk Management (SPP 3.7) and the revised Planning for Bushfire Risk Management Guidelines. The DoP states that revised SPP 3.7 is intended to reduce the risk of bushfire to people, property and infrastructure by encouraging a conservative approach to strategic planning, subdivision, development and other planning decisions proposed in bushfire-prone areas. Specifically it:
- addresses the land use planning elements of the Keelty Report;
- elevates bushfire issues to be addressed by the highest level of planning policy available, giving it clear status and effect in the land use planning policy framework;
- emphasises the need to consider bushfire management measures in strategic level policy documents, including regional and local planning schemes, sub-regional and local planning strategies and structure plans, as well as during statutory planning processes for subdivision and development applications; and
- seeks to achieve the consistent implementation of bushfire management measures across the community.
The revised Planning for Bushfire Risk Management Guidelines are designed to supplement the objectives and policy measures established in SPP 3.7, to assist in their interpretation and provide advice on how bushfire risk is to be addressed when designing or assessing a proposal within a bushfire-prone area.
TBB Review and Comments
Whilst the intent of the revisions are noted, having reviewed both documents, TBB believe there are several implementation and interpretation inconsistencies; with the status of fire protection planning now elevated within the planning process, it is at odds with existing and approved development frameworks and current planning and environmental legislation. The documents take a default position whereby all development within 100m of a bushfire prone area (or where no bushfire prone maps exist, any vegetation within 100m greater than 1 hectare in area) requires a Bushfire Hazard Assessment, or a Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) Assessment to determine the level of risk. Moderate or Extreme bushfire prone areas will then require an increase in the building construction standard in accordance with Australian Standard 3959 – Construction of buildings in bushfire-prone areas (AS3959). Buildings required to be constructed in accordance with AS3959 can expect to incur additional construction costs and other planning requirements, such as notifications on title at subdivision stage.
We also believe the rigid application of the documents as proposed would unduly add time and cost to an already complicated planning process, with the documents remaining silent on some key issues. These relate to, in our opinion, the applicable building construction standards associated with redevelopment of existing urban areas, dispute resolution, legislative priority, the responsibility of adjoining landowners/government agencies from a management perspective and the increase in bushfire risk over time.
In addition, we believe the documents should seek to provide greater clarity in terms of practical planning outcomes in relation to the use of exemptions and ‘unavoidable developments’ that apply.
Whilst not wishing to be critical, the conservative approach proposed unduly places additional expense and obligations on landowners and developers within the development process. This includes mandating the need to obtain a development application approval for a permitted dwelling (where it is located in a ‘moderate’ or ‘extreme’ bushfire risk area) where currently these are exempt, requiring the applicant to obtain a second Bushfire Management Plan where there is dispute, and seek to discourage development within the BAL-40 and BAL-FZ level, even if these areas are already established for urban purposes. AS3959, which forms part of the Building Code of Australia, historically identified the Building Permit process as the relevant stage to determine an appropriate dwelling construction standard.
Various other issues have been identified, and TBB are currently liaising with various industry representatives to discuss the finer technical aspects of the documents, and we will be providing a submission on the draft documents prior to the July 25th deadline. Watch this space!
Are Your Planning Projects Affected?
Should you require any further information on this matter, or believe any of your projects may be affected, please feel free to contact us. We can also assist with providing details of several appropriate Fire Management Consultants.
More Information and Related Links
- Planning for Bushfire Protection (TBB Newsletter Article, March 2014)
- 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)