Photo and story Melissa Hargraves
Lismore homeowners in flood-prone areas will not be able to replace their dwellings if they burn down, under a new plan set to go on public exhibition.
The Draft Floodplain Risk Management has raised the ire of one councillor who says Lismore City Council (LCC) has no right to prevent the homeowners whose dwellings are in areas identified as extreme risk of flood from replacing them.
Cr Greg Bennett also says that funding is not available for the proposed voluntary house purchase scheme for the flood-prone area and the plan should not be approved until the issue is clarified.
‘Most of these houses were built before development controls have been placed on them,’ Cr Bennett told council last week.
He asked council’s strategic planning coordinator Paula Newman if council would compensate these home owners if their homes burnt down.
‘On the face of it, no, but the proposal is that the restriction particularly applies where the high priority dwellings for house purchase have been nominated, that is Baillie Street, Wotherspoon Street and one in Winterton Parade,’ Ms Newman said.
‘The aim would be that they would be identified as potential acquisition properties, initially voluntarily,’ she said.
‘Under that policy, if the house did burn down we would not allow them to rebuild it.
‘However, one of our issues at the moment is that state policy on voluntary acquisition is that we cannot purchase vacant land. We are in the process of asking the state government to change that.
‘Council may be able to obtain funding for this, but at the moment no funds are set aside if their house burns down,’ Ms Newman said.
Cr Glenys Ritchie asked whether there was a strategic financial plan to voluntarily purchase these properties.
‘No plan has been put together for this yet,’ Ms Newman said.
‘Council last purchased a house in 2003,’ she said.
Ms Newman emphasised that the plan was not a financial risk plan, but a flood management one.
‘If we get feedback that this won’t work, then we will come back to a council workshop before it is adopted and discuss the real financial implications,’ she said.
Cr Bennett said that generally the plan was good but he ‘could not support a plan that took rights away from ratepayers and leaves them in limbo.
‘They can’t replace their houses on their own land. This is not good enough, so for that reason I cannot support it,’ he said.
Cr Bennett asked his fellow councillors to show empathy for the house owners.
‘Imagine if this was your house in this situation,’ he said. ‘We need to either make a policy that we will definitely purchase it if an event occurs or we need to remove it from the document.
‘The value of these houses will be further devalued from this plan as you cannot rebuild on them,’ he said.
Even though there is no funding currently available, Cr Isaac Smith said there was an option.
‘If I recall the sale of the Lismore Club should go back to flood mitigation,’ Cr Smith said, ‘so if and when that sale occurs, that funding could help us purchase these houses’.
He said the ‘voluntary acquisition plan should begin and that there had been no fires on Wotherspoon or Bailey Streets for 30 years so there are no houses about to imminently crumble down’.
Cr Simon Clough said he saw it as a ‘very difficult situation’.
Cr Clough also mentioned the risk by rescue services that in a flood crisis ‘will have to voluntarily put their lives on the line to rescue people in extreme flood zones.
‘We can’t take these things out of context. We need to voluntarily acquire these houses,’ he said.
Cr Clough said there were only ‘16 houses that need purchasing and they weren’t worth a whole lot of money’.
Cr Bennett told Echonetdaily ‘that number is only what has been identified for acquisition, there are more on top of that’.
Cr Clough acknowledged the culmination of four years of hard work putting together the report and congratulated Ms Newman, particularly because ‘she has not done floodplain management before.
‘She was brave enough to take on peer review which helped the report significantly,’ he said.
‘I would also like to thank the community representatives who gave a lot of time and effort over those years,’ Cr Clough said.
‘A whole range of people have shown an extraordinary commitment to this who will be thanked by a letter from council.’
Cr Clough said he was pleased that the report took climate change into account.
‘This is important in this community as we have not seen significant floods since 1989.’
Cr Clough said the proposal to take out part of the meander behind the Bunning’s site ‘will have significant impacts for a small cost.
‘This will mean the levee will be 100mm higher. When we remove more of that meander soil the levee will become higher still,’ he said.