The 2022 floods highlighted the devastating consequences of building on floodplains the results of which leave people homeless and traumatised and with enormous financial costs being incurred by individuals, councils and state and federal governments. Highlighting this point and the potential future risks and costs, members of the Kingscliff Ratepayers and Progress Association Inc (KRPA), the Tumbulgum and Chinderah Community Associations and local residents recently met with NSW Labor leader Chris Minns and Shadow Minister for the North Coast John Graham.
‘KRPA was pleased to welcome the Leader of the NSW Opposition, Chris Minns and the NSW Shadow Minister for the North Coast, John Graham to Kingscliff to discuss the Association’s submission to the NSW Legislative Council (Select Committee) flood inquiry and ongoing flood issues. Both Chris and John were keen to view flood impacted areas and meet affected residents,’ KRPA Presidents Peter Newton told The Echo.
A key concern raised were the low-land and floodplain areas that have existing approvals for residential and business development that are yet to be built. While the NSW government accepted the Flood Inquiry recommendation not to approve developments on floodplains serious questions are still being asked about the impact of existing, legacy approvals and zonings that allow for development in flood-prone areas such as Kingscliff, the Iron Gates site at Evans Head and West Byron.
‘During the visit, Chris and John were able to see first-hand the lowland areas [in Kingscliff] which have legacy development approvals and spoke with residents about the impact of the flooding of these areas on adjacent properties. The residents raised strong concerns about the safety of residents and the social and economic impact should development of these areas proceed as normal,’ said Mr Newton.
Moratorium on legacy approvals
President of Tumbulgum Community Association (TCA) Jenny Kidd said that a moratorium should be immediately put in place.
‘There should be a moratorium and review of retrospective improvements such as those at West Kingscliff that are legacy approvals,’ said Ms Kidd.
‘The recent severe weather events and floods have shown that it is inappropriate to develop these areas and there needs to be a review of legacy approvals.’
Local resident and real estate agent Brent Jones who has lived in the area for over 20 years described to The Echo how the 2017 flood had entered the end of their street but that a long term local neighbour had assured them that it never came far up the street.
‘Our neighbour said it’ll be fine and it just came up the street a little bit, it was very slow and it finally stopped eight hours after high tide,’ said Mr Jones.
‘This time  once it started coming, it just kept coming. We ended up with 910mm of water in our house, that had never previously been flooded, it was a meter higher than previous flooded.’
Duplexes, often with elderly living in them, that are on the street that are built higher than the expected flood level had water enter them while people Mr Jones knows people in Chinderah are still living in their back yards in caravans seven months after the flood.
‘If they keep filling in the floodplain it will keep rising. The water has to go somewhere,’ he told The Echo.
‘On Beach Street and that area the water was bubbling up through the drains. If they continue to fill floodplain around the new development called the Dunes Estate, where they had water bubbling in their gutters because that was how high the water was when we get more water they will flood.
‘They can’t keep filling in floodplains, watch the news, it is going to get worse. The 2017 flood was a 1 in 100 flood, this year 1 in 500. To me it has always been obvious, you just don’t fill in the floodplain because if the water can’t get out it has to go up until it can get out.’
Future cost of flooding
The future cost of floods to existing housing and businesses as well as those planned for low-lying areas and floodplains is a key concern for community groups and locals.
‘The question we have to ask is what is the cost of future floods to individuals and taxpayers, add to the cost of the 2022 flood the additional cost of new residents coming into houses on the floodplain, can we afford it? At what point do we draw the line?’ said Ms Kidd.
‘It is time to consider how much it will cost to rezone these areas now versus what will be the cost of the buy back of houses that have yet to be built? If we are looking at buy backs for already impacted houses – the cost of compensation for the unbuilt houses now would be far less than the rescue, recovery and buy backs following future flood events,’ she said.
‘It is time to consider whether approved legacy development projects should be allowed to proceed.
‘We need to have a think tank of players in the room to look at appropriate zoning and a pathway forward instead of council etc dealing with these one off DAs where council’s hands are tied by state planning laws and regulations. Rather than incremental individual developments it is time to pause and review the planning controls on the flood plain.
‘The Council with its LEPs (local environment plan) and DCPs (development control plans) – we are working on documents from 2014. We have had two major flood and rain events since then and these documents need urgent review to take into account their impacts.
As the Independent Flood Inquiry made clear the pathway forward has to include the community, it can’t be a review done by the state government without input from the community.’
Following his visit to Kingscliff Mr Minns told The Echo that, ‘NSW Labor supports the land swap and voluntary buyback of properties and relocatables, in higher risk flood prone areas.
‘Since the devastation of the floods this year I have visited the Northern Rivers five times to meet with local residents and learn about their concerns, including pre-existing development applications,’ he said.
‘The O’Kane-Fuller Independent Flood Inquiry report made 26 recommendations which the NSW Government has promised to implement to protect Northern Rivers residents. We urge the government to take swift action to mitigate these communities against future floods.’
‘The visit reinforced the Association’s strong belief that there is an absolute need to stop development on low lying flood prone land or, at the very least, pause any such development until State and local authorities have fully considered flood inquiry findings. The findings of the research currently being conducted by the CSIRO, including the flood mapping, needs to form part of these considerations,’ said Mr Newton.
‘Our community and others are hamstrung by these “legacy approvals”, which no longer meet the environmental and floodplain management standards of current times. We do not have faith that the existing NSW Planning Frameworks can adequately address this issue. In this regard, we are calling on NSW Planning to look seriously at changing planning legislation to allow for deferred approval so land is not zoned until it is required to be developed. Strict timeframes could then be applied to developments.’