A PROPOSAL to apply a Land Subject to Inundation Overlay (LSIO) to inland and coastal areas susceptible to inundation prompted a flood of complaints when it was put on public display as Amendment C81 to the South Gippsland Planning Scheme.
Prepared using new data from the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, the LSIO maps areas which could be troubled by a 1 in 100 year flood and/or coastal storm surge inundation predicted around the year 2100.
A total of 23 responses were received, of which 14 were objections to the proposal from private landowners. A key point at issue was the need to apply for a permit for a new dwelling with a floor level under 3.4 metres in the area covered by the LSIO.
Council officers accepted some of the suggestions from the submitters and recommended changes to the Amendment accordingly. However, because of the intractability of much of the opposition, they also recommended referring the Amendment to an Independent Planning Panel. At the council meeting last Wednesday, Council voted to do this.
Several landowners took the opportunity of public presentation sessions to press home the points they raised in written submissions to Council.
Roger Harvey, a town planner who owns land at Port Welshpool, took Council to task for failing to take a broad enough approach to meeting the challenge of climate change. A sensible council, he argued, would be asking what it can do to protect the whole town and its infrastructure, rather than just insisting on higher floor levels for new dwellings. “There won’t be much smugness being in a house above the flood level with no electricity or water, sewage floating everywhere, and the car and garage under water,” he posited.
“Council needs to spell out exactly how they expect the flood scenario will play out in terms of existing dwellings, infrastructure and their action plan on the day and beyond. To not be concurrently looking at what works can be carried out to mitigate such a disaster is legally negligent and an insult to the community and their investment.”
Like many others, Mr Harvey objected to the term “land subject to inundation,” saying that meant land which had been subject to known and documented flooding, but that was not the case in Port Welshpool. He said he was concerned that using such terminology would have a negative impact on land values, due to a perception that the land is subject to inundation. Other landowners expressed similar fears.
In his written submission, Paul Hamlett, who also owns land at Port Welshpool, recommended that a minimum floor level of 3 metres (not 3.4 metres) was more appropriate for Port Welshpool. His technical expertise was evident in his argument. Council conceded his point, and the minimum floor level to trigger the need for a permit is now set at 3 metres for Port Welshpool.
Mr Hamlett also won his argument that property owners should not be required to obtain a permit for the importation of fill up to 100 cubic metres. He said he was pleased to see these two suggestions incorporated.
However, he still maintained that Council was taking an overly simplistic approach in simply requiring property owners to raise the floor level of future buildings or infrastructure to be above the expected 2100 worst case water levels. He pointed out that most buildings would not be expected to last until 2100 anyway and implored Council “to adopt a position where the community can adapt over time to the changes and not jump to long term solutions that may not be required within the lifespan of any development or land use”.
He concluded: “The Shire of South Gippsland along with the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority are in a position to show leadership in developing a response to the obviously adverse impacts of climate change. It’s important to ensure information being used to advise the public is transparent and any conclusions drawn from the data are applied in such a way as to stimulate and encourage considered development rather than stifle development. To do anything else will ultimately diminish the viability of the region, its unique and beautiful landscapes and life style opportunities.”
Several Sandy Point property owners argued against including Sandy Point in the inundation overlay on the grounds of the negative impact on property values and insurance costs.
Dale Kerwood argued that Council was being unfair and should have notified affected property owners earlier, perhaps in a Section 32 vendor statement. “I can understand them changing the overlay on land that is yet to be subdivided and developed, but I don’t feel that Council has the right to revisit overlays that have been in place for decades and are what residents have based many financial and life decisions on for generations. I feel it is completely unreasonable to change existing overlays when nothing has changed from when they were first put in place except a more detailed study.”
Neil Smith, who farms on land bordering Anderson Inlet, made a presentation on the morning of the council meeting in which he suggested Council was being unduly alarmist in its timescale for inundation. He said there was a sea wall which hadn’t been breached in 50 years and it would take not 100 but 500 years for most of the land around him to be inundated.
Cr Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks pointed out that Amendment C81 was initiated by the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority. It had asked Council, which has the authority unlike the CMA, to make amendments to the Planning Scheme.
“We are doing the bidding of another authority in putting this through. We don’t have a lot of power to change what the WGCMA asked for.”
Roger Harvey urged Council to abandon C81 or at least defer it until some serious issues are addressed. “For once, time is well and truly on our side, and a little time working through the issues I raised is warranted in this case. No one could question this,” he said.
“As a town planner, I feel we are in a period where local government has been doing a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of policy, while the State Government has been relatively quiet, and may I say quite insipid in dealing with major issues.
“Climate change is an issue in which the State and Federal Government must take a leadership role, because of the scope of the issue, and its financial implications across the State and country. Local Government cannot possibly address it. My fear with C81 is not just that floors must be raised, but that it highlights the inability of the shire to take any real action to protect infrastructure. This is where the threat of liability lies.
“I have not yet encountered any planner, valuer or sensible minded person who has not supported my suggestion that ‘Land Subject to Inundation’ gives a quite dire message compared to my alternative suggestion of a new suite of terms – ‘Climate Change Protection Overlay’ or similar.The State Government needs to run with this.”
Mr Harvey said he was disappointed but not surprised by Council’s decision to refer the Amendment to an independent panel.
“Local government has a tendency to refer decisions to other bodies,” he said.
He said he was particularly disappointed at Council’s failure to investigate the economic impact similar policies have had on other coastal communities such as Metung, Lakes Entrance and Port Albert, where the effect on property valuations has, by his understanding, been dire.
“I think the council became distracted in the belief that the Amendment was a contest of ideas between climate believers and sceptics. This was not my point at all. My point was that it is time some serious policy consideration was given to the impacts of climate change on the whole future of coastal development. What position do they take? Will they save the town, and if so how? How does it sit with other policy calling for development of these towns? Fluffing around with a few floor levels is a totally inadequate policy response.”
Council gave unanimous support to the motion to refer Amendment C81 to an Independent Planning Panel appointed by the Minister for Planning.
As the mover of the motion, Cr Hutchinson-Brooks had the final word. He advised that C81 “doesn’t prohibit anything, it simply triggers a permit if someone wants to build lower than three metres. It is not as serious as most objectors seem to think.”