Sunday May 17 2015

It was expected new bushfire regulations were to come into effect May 2015. Because of the impact of these regulations on consumers and builders the WA state government has indicated it will provide a transitional period (yet to be advised) to allow consumers and local governments time to adjust to the new regulations prior to their enforcement by the planning process.

The building requirements are not new and exist within the
current Building Codes of Australia and the Australian Standards. What the
community should be aware of is the manner in which the new BAL (Bushfire
Attack Level) is mandated in WA via a mapping system.

What will surprise many home owners is that these new
regulations will not just affect homes and buildings located and developed to
the rural outskirts of Perth but may also impact homes within inner city and
metropolitan suburbs.  It is likely some locations of Metropolitan areas will fall into possible flame zones and require a determination as to what BAL will be applied.

The legislation is not retrospective so it only applies to
new, or redevelopment of existing property however this has the capacity to
impact on sale prices. There are also implications to the homeowners insurance. It may be that insurers will charge higher premiums and impose limits on the extent of insurance of a property depending on its BAL rating.

Under the current planning guidelines it is possible that
homes adjacent bushland such as Kings Park, Bold Park and other parkland areas
will need to comply with the Australian standards for bushfire protection and
additional costs will be incurred when development applications are sought on
these properties.

As part of a development application such “at risk” homes
identified on the map may opt for a private certifier to prepare a report
confirming its existing risk status or modifying its risk based on individual
circumstances. The map or the report will then be used as the basis on which
local councils administer and possibly deny planning applications (if the home is
deemed to be in a high risk BAL FZ area). There is the potential for properties
to loose sale value the day the mapping is introduced and owners should be
aware of the implications of this legislation.

As the legislation is implemented there will be conflicting
interpretations of the Standards determining the BAL.  The broader community will require experts to:

  • Attend sites and modify / concur with the maps
    BAL and advise homeowners how to lower the BAL.

  • Police the contingencies put in place to lower
    the BAL of individual properties (such as fire breaks etc.)

  • Advise government and its agencies on Fire
    management strategies as the Perth city expands and rural environments change.

  •  Review
    the effectiveness of the legislation.

From my investigations there appears to be only a handful of
such experts available within the state. Whether this number is enough to
implement the scheme effectively without new less qualified entrants dumbing
down and affecting the integrity of the process is yet to be seen. One also
needs to consider that local governments will be under the same pressure to administer
with limited resources and as a precaution may fall out of step with sensible,
cost effective bushfire strategies. This would then become a greater cost and
regulatory burden on builders and home owners.

Like all new legislation there will be a cost to the
community and this cost should be minimised. My opinion is State government
departments are in a better situation to concentrate expertise and scale down
what could be expensive and over regulated legislation if it is administered by
local government. The management of bushfires occurs at a state level and the
responses to them are dealt with by state controlled services. The
administration and recovery of those costs should be by a State government.

Philip Kemp MAIB