Federal Political Correspondent
11:50PM JANUARY 19, 2020
Homeowners in bushfire-ravaged communities face strict building regulations, red tape and financial uncertainty as they confront the prospect of rebuilding their homes under tougher safety and zoning regimes.
As specialist assessment teams continue to inspect damage in fire zones, traumatised communities are bracing for rigorous construction and development approvals, with building figures warning that some homeowners may not be able to rebuild.
Australian Institute of Building Surveyors vice-president Wayne Liddy, who oversaw the AIBS response to the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, said that under new standards, replacement homes near bushland would have to undergo a bushfire-attack-level assessment.
The assessment, in tandem with other development approvals, would measure the building’s potential exposure to ember attack and radiant heat.
It considers the Fire Danger Index, slope of the land and types of surrounding vegetation and the type of construction and building materials required to obtain a building permit.
“In the worst-case scenario, some people won’t be able to rebuild at all, otherwise the building might have to adhere to new standards and use more fire-resistant materials that bring additional costs to the homeowners, which they might not be insured for,” Mr Liddy told The Australian.
With more than 2800 homes destroyed across Australia and with state and federal inquiries into the bushfire disaster looming, concerns are growing that rebuilding in fire zones could fall under new layers of regulation.
The Insurance Council of Australia has predicted a sharp increase in claims in coming days as homeowners return to properties and large commercial claims are lodged. Since November 8, more than 13,750 bushfire catastrophe-related claims have been lodged, with losses exceeding $1.34bn.
Mr Liddy said government responses must be co-ordinated in a manner that “everyone is very mindful of not only the loss of infrastructure and the loss of property, but the mental health of individuals who have lost their livelihoods, animals and, unfortunately in some cases, loved ones”.
The bushfire-attack-level assessment, introduced after Victoria’s 2009 Black Saturday, was intended to ensure new buildings were built from certain materials and used specific construction techniques to minimise risk. Homes built before 2009 will be subject to stricter regulations.
Mr Liddy predicted a long road ahead for communities that had lost homes but stressed the importance of an approach that included governments, insurers and the construction industry.
“The building process is never going to be fast enough for those affected, but once everything settles down and the areas are determined to be safe, properties can start to be assessed by the local council and then insurance assessors can come in,” he said.
“There needs to be a co-ordinated approach to ensure planning and building approvals are processed in a timely manner.
“Increases in the regulatory requirements in many of the affected areas will come at an increased cost and will cause much angst to affected owners.”
NSW Deputy Premier and Minister Responsible for Disaster Recovery John Barilaro said the NSW Rural Fire Service had building impact assessment teams “continuing to inspect impacted properties and homes”.
He said the bushfire disaster was “unprecedented and “traumatising” for impacted communities and the government was facilitating accommodation in local areas for people who had lost homes.
Since November 8, 2305 houses have been destroyed and 900 damaged in NSW. Almost 5000 outbuildings have been destroyed, with 1806 damaged. More than 38,000 properties have been surveyed by RFS teams.
The Australian understands homeowners seeking to rebuild in NSW will need to comply with the state’s Planning for Bush Fire Protection guidelines.
The guidelines, recently updated based on major bushfires in recent years, sets out frameworks to ensure new developments in bushfire-prone lands were best placed to withstand fires.
It includes rules for buffer zones, access arrangements and the availability of water supply.
Where properties had structural damage, homeowners will require either a complying development certificate or development application before repairs can be done. An occupation certificate is also needed to repair homes.