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Byron Shire
March 21, 2023

Playing with fire

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Fast Buck$, Coorabell

At the February meeting Crs Lyon and Richardson expressed wonder at how a development at the end of a narrow, dead end lane in Main Arm could have obtained a satisfactory fire risk rating.

State government legislation to protect lives and property in bushfire-prone lands in rural areas requires a developer/builder to deal separately with the rural fire service (RFS) which has an effective veto power.

I know about this because of my community title development. The main relevant rule for any situation is that you can’t build more than 200 metres from a council road – unless there is an alternative way out of the property, or if you totally clear a 50 metre cordon around your house.

My cheapish consultant hadn’t told me about that so when his report went to the RFS for approval I received a phone call from Coffs Harbour office advising me of the problem and suggesting that there are other ways around it and maybe I should hire another consultant.

I didn’t like the tone of that, so I sent them a letter expressing my suspicions. In it I offered a compromise – which involved me undertaking not to pursue my suspicions –  and them to agree to further work that I would perform  to facilitate the access of fire-fighting trucks. They readily accepted.

Anyway, I soon deduced who the highly-qualified consultant was to whom they were trying to steer me. I had already seen an example of his work done for a neighbour of mine. He has turned up working on fire reports for a number of other contentious developments in the region.

The other RFS rules relate to such things as road width, steepness, road setbacks, turning bays, passing bays etc. Not one of your elected Councillors will know anything about any of this as the bureaucrats involved wish them to remain ignorant.

I point out that normally the fire consultant report is put out for public comment along with other planning aspects of the proposal. In one case, however, Council unusually exhibited the DA without any fire report. Council refused the DA on various grounds, so the developer lodged an appeal to the Land and Environment Court.

I attended the hearing in February last year. Although Council’s barrister argued well (and won the case) I was appalled to hear him on the last day, brandish a fire consultants’ report plus RFS approval declaring the fire risk matter thereby ‘resolved’ without any independent comment or input.

It appears that good working relationships are the order of the day when it comes to fire-risk.

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