REBUILD BLOW: Extra building red tape could stall fire recovery

Bronwen and Peter Jacobs, pictured in February, were looking forward to their community’s bushfire recovery but Mr Jacobs is now concerned residents will struggle to rebuild because of new fire ratings on properties in Wye River and Separation Creek. The ratings could make it too expensive to rebuild homes.

Bronwen and Peter Jacobs, pictured in February, were looking forward to their community’s bushfire recovery but Mr Jacobs is now concerned residents will struggle to rebuild because of new fire ratings.

A SEPARATION CREEK resident says the State Government’s new fire ratings for the coastal community are “worse than horrific” and could stop landowners rebuilding.

Long-time resident Peter Jacobs, whose home survived the Christmas Day blaze which destroyed 116 properties, in Separation Creek and Wye River, said new “fast-tracked” reports increased bushfire attack level ratings on properties which could increase the cost of rebuilding.

The State Government has released three reports which will guide planning and possible rebuilding in the fire-ravaged Wye River-Separation Creek, including a new BAL report.

The BAL or fire-risk rating governs what Colac Otway Shire Council will require landowners to do and how much red tape they will have to cut to gain a permit to rebuild their homes.

“Almost every house down here is now ‘flame zone’; people won’t be able to build because of all the extra cost,” Mr Jacobs said.

“And there’s no recourse, no-one has right of appeal they’ve said.

“I already know people who’ve got their insurance money and are looking to buy at Apollo Bay or somewhere else and they might put a caravan on their block or just leave it,” he said, raising concerns about the community’s recovery.

Mr Jacobs said the State Government and Colac Otway Shire Council had promised the “fast-tracking” would make the planning process easier for landowners who lost homes in the blaze.

“The fast-tracking of permits was to lessen the stress on victims but what they’ve done is multiplied the stress and trauma by ten-fold.

“This won’t fast-track anything, this will destroy some people; it’s worse than horrific and if the government had managed their land better we might not be in this position.

“It’s just appalling.”

Councillors Michael Delahunty and Chris Smith, who had been in contact with Mr Jacobs, said they were concerned with extra stress on landowners who had already been through the trauma of a bushfire and loss of their homes.

Cr Delahunty said the BAL report was a “complex document pushing policy”, with a geotechnical report and land capability assessment report also released this month.

He said he believed it would be “entirely possible to rebuild” with a flame-zone rating but it would be dependent on “extensive vegetation management”.

Cr Delahunty said people could build a fire bunker as part of their rebuilding plans to lower their BAL rating but he agreed with Mr Jacobs’ that people could find rebuilding costs too high to consider.

He said he was concerned there was “very little correlation” between the new LCA report and a report compiled last year which could add to the confusion created by the flame-zone reassessments.

Cr Smith said he found it “really disappointing that extra compliance and difficulty is being placed on the communities; it seems unreasonable they have been hit with this”.

“We’ve had a tragedy; the whole aim of the fast-tracking was to make it as easy to get their home rebuilt.”

See today’s Colac Herald print edition for the council’s response to concerns over the fire recovery.

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