Victoria

Interim response to Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission released

VICTORIAN Premier John Brumby today released the Victorian Government's interim response to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission report. Releasing the report, Mr Brumby said the report is a "catalyst for change that provides key recommendations to make our State safer from the threat of bushfires."

"I am determined that this Royal Commission report is never allowed to gather dust. It is crucial that we grasp the opportunity now to make our State safer," Mr Brumby said.

The government's response follows the release of the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission final report on Saturday which contained 67 recommendations about changes needed to reduce the risk, and the consequences, of similar disasters in the future.

The Victorian Government will support 'in principle' 59 of the 67 recommendations made by the Royal Commission. However Mr Brumby said that the recommendations not on the interim list were still under consideration.

Mr Brumby said the government will act swiftly and decisively and is committed to doing "all we can to preserve human life in the face of the threat of bushfires."

Mr Brumby said the government would speak to stakeholders about a range of issues, including:

  • Refuges – How to integrate the provision of refuges into local emergency management;
  • Local Government – Obligations for local government, particularly in the area of local bushfire and emergency planning;
  • Evacuations – Requirements and policies around evacuations, recognising that there are strong views in the community;
  • Power lines – The progressive replacement of single-wire earth return and 22 kilovolt power lines with aerial bundled cable, underground cabling or other technology to reduce the bushfire risk, including all options for mitigating risk and financial implications for consumers;
  • Acquisitions – A retreat and resettlement strategy for existing developments in areas of unacceptably high bushfire risk, including a scheme for non-compulsory acquisition by the State of land in these areas, to determine the implications of such a policy on the viability of small towns; and
  • Fuel reduction – Increasing fuel reduction burning to an annual rolling target of 5 per cent minimum of public land, recognising that fuel reduction burning must increase, but that there are strong views held in different sectors of the community.

Of the Commission's 67 recommendations, 18 were focused on planning and building, including the non-compulsory acquisition of land in high bushfire risk areas, modification of the Building Code and restrictions of development in areas of the highest risk.

The Commission noted that "planning and building controls are crucial factors affecting safety in a bushfire."

THE COMMISSION'S PLANNING AND BUILDING RECOMMENDATIONS AND INTERIM GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

RECOMMENDATION 37

The State identify a central point of responsibility for and expertise in mapping bushfire risk to:

  • review urgently the mapping criteria at present used by the Country Fire Authority to map the Wildfire Management Overlay, to ensure that the mapping used to determine building and planning controls is based on the best available science and takes account of all relevant aspects of bushfire risk
  • map and designate Bushfire-prone Areas for the purposes of planning and building controls, in consultation with municipal councils and fire agencies
  • finalise the alignment of site-assessment methods for planning and building purposes, taking into account bushfire risk to human safety as well as to property.

Support in principle.

RECOMMENDATION 38

The State implement a regional settlement policy that:

  • takes account of the management of bushfire risk, including that associated with small, undeveloped rural lots
  • includes a process for responding to bushfire risk at the planning stage for new urban developments in regional cities, the process being similar to that used for new developments in Melbourne's Urban Growth Zone.

Support in principle.

RECOMMENDATION 39

The State amend the Victoria Planning Provisions relating to bushfire to ensure that the provisions give priority to the protection of human life, adopt a clear objective of substantially restricting development in the areas of highest bushfire risk—giving due consideration to biodiversity conservation—and provide clear guidance for decision makers. The amendments should take account of the conclusions reached by the Commission and do the following:

  • outline the State's objectives for managing bushfire risk through land-use planning in an amended state planning policy for bushfire, as set out in clause 15.07 of the Victoria Planning Provisions
  • allow municipal councils to include a minimum lot size for use of land for a dwelling, both with and without a permit, in a schedule to each of the Rural Living Zone, Green Wedge Zone, Green Wedge A Zone, Rural Conservation Zone, Farming Zone and Rural Activity Zone
  • amend clause 44.06 of the Victoria Planning Provisions to provide a comprehensive Bushfire-prone Overlay provision.

Support in principle.

RECOMMENDATION 40

The Country Fire Authority amend its guidelines for assessing permit applications for dwellings, non-dwellings and subdivisions in the Bushfire-prone Overlay in order to accommodate the amendments to the Wildfire Management Overlay that are implemented as a result of recommendation 39 and make the guidelines available to municipal councils and the public. The revised guidelines should do the following:

  • substantially restrict new developments and subdivisions in those areas of highest risk in the Bushfire-prone Overlay
  • set out the CFA's guidelines for assessing permit applications for dwellings, non-dwellings and subdivisions—including the minimum defendable space requirements for different risk levels
  • clarify that the CFA will approve new developments and subdivisions only if the recommended bushfire protection measures—including the minimum defendable space—can be created and maintained on a continuing basis
  • emphasise the need for enduring permit conditions—in particular, conditions for the creation and maintenance of minimum defendable space to be maintained for the life of the development.

Further consultation.

RECOMMENDATION 41

The State:

  • amend the Victoria Planning Provisions to require that, when assessing a permit to remove native vegetation around an existing dwelling, the responsible authority and the Department of Sustainability and Environment, as referral authority, take into account fire hazard and give weight to fire protection purposes
  • develop guidelines for determining the maximum level of native vegetation removal for bushfire risk mitigation, beyond which level the application would be rejected.

Support in principle.

RECOMMENDATION 42

The Department of Sustainability and Environment develop and administer a collective offset solution for individual landholders who are permitted to remove native vegetation for the purpose of fire protection.

Support in principle.

RECOMMENDATION 43

The Department of Sustainability and Environment conduct biodiversity mapping identifying flora, fauna and any threatened species throughout Victoria and make the results publicly available. The format used should be compatible with that used for Bushfire-prone Area mapping.

Support in principle.

RECOMMENDATION 44

The Country Fire Authority produce for community guidance material on fire-resistant landscape and garden design, including a list of fire-resistant species.

Support in principle.

RECOMMENDATION 45

The State press municipal councils—in particular, Murrindindi Shire Council—to urgently adopt a bushfire policy in their Local Planning Policy Framework and incorporate bushfire risk management in their planning policies and strategies for rebuilding communities such as Marysville, Kinglake and others affected by the January–February 2009 fires.

Support in principle.

RECOMMENDATION 46

The State develop and implement a retreat and resettlement strategy for existing developments in areas of unacceptably high bushfire risk, including a scheme for non-compulsory acquisition by the State of land in these areas.

Further consultation.

RECOMMENDATION 47

Standards Australia do the following:

  • amend the objective of AS 3959-2009, Construction of Buildings in Bushfire-prone Areas, to ensure that it incorporates reducing the risk of ignition from ember attack
  • review, and amend as appropriate, the testing methods prescribed in its standards for Tests on Elements of Construction for Buildings Exposed to Simulated Bushfire Attack (AS 1530.8.1 and AS 1530.8.2) to ensure that, so far as is possible, the methods provide a reliable predictor of the performance of construction elements under bushfire conditions.

Support in principle.

RECOMMENDATION 48

The Australian Building Codes Board do the following:

  • amend the performance requirements in the Building Code of Australia to ensure that they incorporate reducing the risk of ignition from ember attack
  • work with Standards Australia to effect expeditious continuing review and development of AS 3959, Construction of Buildings in Bushfire-prone Areas, and other bushfire-related standards referred to in the Building Code of Australia
  • negotiate with Standards Australia and SAI Global Ltd an arrangement for free online access to AS 3959-2009, Construction of Buildings in Bushfire-prone Areas, the other Australian standards referred to in AS 3959-2009, and any other bushfire-related Australian standards referred to in the Building Code of Australia
  • amend the Building Code of Australia to remove deemed-to-satisfy provisions for the construction of buildings in BAL-FZ (the Flame Zone)
  • include in the Building Code of Australia bushfire construction provisions for non-residential buildings that will be occupied by people who are particularly vulnerable to bushfire attack, such as schools, child care centres, hospitals and aged care facilities.

Further consultation.

RECOMMENDATION 49

The State modify its adoption of the Building Code of Australia for the following purposes:

  • to remove deemed-to-satisfy provisions for the construction of buildings in BAL-FZ (the Flame Zone)
  • to apply bushfire construction provisions to non-residential buildings that will be occupied by people who are particularly vulnerable to bushfire attack, such as schools, child care centres, hospitals and aged care facilities
  • other than in exceptional circumstances, to apply a minimum AS 3959-2009 construction level of BAL-12.5 to all new buildings and extensions in bushfire-prone areas.

Further consultation.

RECOMMENDATION 50

Standards Australia move expeditiously to develop a standard for bushfire sprinklers and sprayers.

Support in principle.

RECOMMENDATION 51

The Victorian Building Commission, in conjunction with the Country Fire Authority, develop, publish and provide to the community and industry information about ways in which existing buildings in bushfire-prone areas can be modified to incorporate bushfire safety measures.

Support in principle.

RECOMMENDATION 52

The State develop and implement, in consultation with local government, a mechanism for sign-off by municipal councils of any permit conditions imposed under the Bushfire-prone Overlay and the regular assessment of landowners' compliance with conditions.

Support in principle.

RECOMMENDATION 53

The State amend s. 32 of the Sale of Land Act 1962 to require that a vendor's statement include whether the land is in a designated Bushfire-prone Area, a statement about the standard (if any) to which the dwelling was constructed, the bushfire attack level assessment at the time of construction (where relevant) and a current bushfire attack level assessment of the site of the dwelling.

Further consultation.

RECOMMENDATION 54

The State amend the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 to enable the Chief Officer to delegate the power to issue fire prevention notices.

Support in principle.

RECOMMENDATION 55

The State initiate the development of education and training options to improve understanding of bushfire risk management in the building and planning regimes by:

  • providing regular training and guidance material to planning and building practitioners
  • helping a suitable tertiary institution design and implement a course on bushfire planning and design in Victoria.

Support in principle.

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