What is bushfire prone land?
Bushfire prone land is land that is likely to be subject to bushfire attack. The Sutherland Shire Bush Fire Prone Land Map, certified by the Rural Fire Service (RFS) in accordance with Section 146 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, 1979, shows all land considered at risk from bushfire. It identifies two vegetation types indicative of bushfire threat:
- ‘Vegetation Category 1' is the most hazardous vegetation category, and refers to forest, woodlands, heath and wetlands greater than 1 hectare in size.
- 'Vegetation Category 2’ refers to moist forests, shrublands, open woodlands, mallee, grasslands, and pockets of category 1 vegetation less than 1 hectare in size. ‘Category 2’ vegetation is at less risk from bush fire than category 1 land.
Land that directly adjoins bushland is also classified as 'Vegetation Buffer 100m & 30m'. These are the areas in which developments and people are most likely to be affected by a bushfire burning in the adjacent land. The buffer area extends for a distance of 100 metres from the vegetation category 1 areas and for a distance of 30 metres from the vegetation category 2 areas.
Why do we need to plan for bushfires?
The Sutherland Shire has large areas maintained in their natural state, with National Parks and other reserves making up approximately half of the land area of the Shire. As such, large parts of Sutherland Shire are bush fire prone and many residents are at potential risk. While it is important to protect property, it is imperative to ensure people are not at risk unnecessarily.
The 1997 bushfire at Menai, which threatened schools, childcare centres and residential areas, demonstrated the difficulties involved in managing evacuation and emergency response, even at a comparatively small scale bushfire event under relatively mild bushfire conditions. Witness statements given to the Coronial Inquiry, and additional interviews with fire fighters conducted after the event highlighted the problems of trying to evacuate these facilities while fire-fighters were trying to respond, and anxious parents were trying to access the area also to ensure their children were safe. The Christmas 2001 bushfires in the Helensburgh area (south of Sutherland Shire) highlighted the difficulties of evacuating aged care facilities in advance of a fire.
The RFS has identified Neighbourhood Safer Places - places where people can shelter as a last resort. However, in some neighbourhoods, it is not possible to establish these shelters because the location is too close to the bush to meet the safety criteria established by the RFS.
How does Draft Sutherland Shire LEP2013 address bushfire risk?
As much of the Shire is already developed, retrofitting bushfire protection measures in existing developed areas is often not feasible. In these circumstances, limiting the number of people subject to bushfire risk is the most effective planning mechanism available to manage bushfire risk.
DSSLEP2013 proposes to take the same approach to bushfire-affected zones as employed in SSLEP2006. By using density controls, limiting permissible uses in bushfire-affected zones and prohibiting vulnerable developments such as childcare centres, schools, aged care facilities and medium density housing, the number of people exposed to unnecessary bush fire risk will be minimised.
A summary of the proposed zone transfer is provided in the table below:
What is permissible in areas subject to bushfire risk?
Areas subject to bushfire risk are generally low-density residential areas characterised by single dwellings. Developments that increase the number of people who may need additional time or assistance to evacuate in the event of a fire, such as childcare centres, residential care facilities and seniors housing are not permissible. Medium and high-density residential developments are also prohibited.
To understand the exact planning meanings of these terms, refer to the dictionary in the draft plan.
What other controls apply?
Planning law in NSW requires new development on bush fire prone land to comply with the provisions of the NSW Rural Fire Service publication, Planning for Bush Fire Protection 2006. Bush fire risk must be taken into account when designing a development. Development may also be required to be setback from bushland to reduce the risk of exposure. Landscaping, construction techniques, material requirements and measures required for evacuation of people requirements of emergency services during a bush fire may also apply. The types of requirements that apply depend on the type of development, the degree of bush fire hazard and the distance from the bush fire hazard.