The WA Government has released new building and planning requirements for homes being built in bushfire-prone areas (areas within 100-metres of bushfire-prone vegetation).
The reforms have been implemented by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, the Building Commission, WA Planning Commission and Department of Planning in response to the rising threat of bushfires from “hotter, drier weather conditions associated with long-term climatic changes” in West Australia.
Released in the WA Gazette today, the policies state that bushfire conditions can reach “catastrophic magnitudes”, and as such, aim to provide the foundation for land use planning to address bushfire risk management in Western Australia.
Taking effect from 8 April 2016, the reforms require those wishing to build new homes in bushfire-prone areas of the state (as identified by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, and covering the majority of the state) to undertake a bushfire hazard assessment.
The assessment will determine the level of construction standards for bushfire resistance to be applied, as identified in the Building Code of Australia and the Australian Standards AS3959.
For example, construction standards could include the placement of ember screens over evaporative air-conditioner units, window screens, the use of non-combustible or reduced risk building materials, and sealing off walls, eaves and roofs.
A four-month transition period will apply to bushfire building and planning requirements in new bushfire prone areas.
It is intended the Map of Bush Fire Prone Areas (which will be updated annually), Building Regulations, State Planning Policy 3.7 – Planning for bushfire prone areas and guidelines, and Local Planning Scheme Amendment Regulations 2015, will “inform and guide decision-makers, referral agencies and landowners/proponents to help achieve acceptable bushfire protection outcomes”.
The government has warned that “subdivision and development applications for vulnerable or high-risk land uses… will not be supported unless they are accompanied by a Bushfire Management Plan jointly endorsed by the relevant local government and the state authority for emergency services”.
Development applications should also include an emergency evacuation plan for proposed occupants and/or a risk management plan for any flammable on-site hazards.
To help developers understand the new reforms, a new “What do I need to do?” assistance tool has been launched that determines which, if any, bushfire planning requirements apply to individual developments. It will also advise if planning approval is likely to be required, or when to seek building construction advice.
Those within Special Control Areas (City of Armadale, City of Busselton, City of Cockburn, Shire of Mundaring, and Shire of Kalamunda), which already use these standards, may also need to address additional requirements.
Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis said: “Western Australia has suffered tragic losses from bushfires recently and while we will never eliminate the risk, we can all take action to reduce it and improve the chance of survival and protect property.
“If you are planning to build a new house in a bushfire-prone area, these reforms will guide you through the steps you need to take to help keep your family safe. The new bushfire-prone area map will become a critical part of emergency services’ operations.”
Concerns over administrative burden
The Property Council of Australia has welcomed the potential improvement of safety that the new reforms bring, but added that it was concerned the planning rules could impact affordable housing and slow the state’s property industry.
Property Council WA executive director Joe Lenzo said his organisation supported a centralised system for mitigating bushfire risk, but was concerned the new rules could create “another level of delay” for planning applications.
He said: “This new system will require certified fire management consultants to tick off on fire management plans.
“There doesn’t seem to be enough of these people to ensure the speedy system that’s required.
“We’re not opposing the actual move to a fire management plan, but we want guarantees that there’s a system in place to make it streamlined.”