Rural living – Do so at your own (fire) risk?


Given the hot temperatures we have been experiencing this week, the news that the Victorian Government intends to make changes to the Bushfire Management Overlay (BMO) is particularly topical. The bush fire risk is an ever more important issue given the increasing population densities as we push out into the rural-urban fringe and as the summers only get hotter.

The BMO is a planning instrument that applies to land that may be significantly affected by a bushfire. The overlay offers a layer of protection by triggering a requirement for a planning permit to ensure that new development implements appropriate bushfire protection measures. These include provisions for defendable space, static water supply and emergency access. This guide on the DTPLI website gives a basic overview: http://www.dpcd.vic.gov.au/planning/plansandpolicies/bushfire-planning-and-building-resource/bushfire-management-overlay/bushfire-management-overlay-interactive

This was originally introduced into the Planning Scheme through the recommendations of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, set up in response to the horrific fires known as Black Saturday. The outcomes of the 2009 Commission places great importance in using land - use planning to mitigate risk and recognised the shared responsibility that governments, fire agencies, communities and individuals have to prevent bushfire tragedy.

However, the owners of bushfire prone land have battled these regulations due to development restrictions they place on their land, in some cases making it unbuildable. Not only the residents but also rural Councils have been lobbying against the BMO on behalf of the local population, this emotive quote sums it up:


"(They've) discovered through the process they can't build on their block and are saddled with a mortgage and nowhere to go, Some of (landowners) are being pushed into depression, borderline suicidal, financial ruin.

Fiona McAllister, Yarra Ranges Mayor

The Minister has come out saying that changes will be made early in the new year that will balance peoples resistance to the bushfire protection measures with their right to live in the bush. He says

"I expect those changes will be very straight forward to allow residents to be able to build on their properties particularly on land that's been deemed unbuildable at this point of time. What we're going to do is ensure private land, private risk. That principal is paramount and importantly Victorians will be aware of their fire risk before they build."

Personally I can't imagine living with that constant fear each year as yet another hot and dry summer rolls around, and the knowledge that it's not a matter of if but when. However, the long term residents obviously feel differently and are determined to remain, with that defiant community spirit to stay in their homes and pick themselves up again. For some, possibly the majority, the benefits of the rural lifestyle and tight knit community outweigh the risks of living in a bushfire prone area.

What do you think, is it a matter of build at your own risk? it people's right to live where they want regardless of the danger, or is the Government responsible for their safety? And what about the cost - measured in both human lives and property damage….


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