The ABC recently reported that 17 Mayors and Councillors from NSW and QLD are calling for urgent Federal Government action to do more to protect communities from natural disasters caused by climate change. Central Coast Council currently has no voice and no representation in this conversation. In fact, it appears to be going backwards.
During the last 12 months, our region has been hit by the impacts of bushfires, flooding and coastal erosion. These extreme weather events have caused distress within our community including displacement and property damage in some cases. Resources have been stretched for emergency services.
The Central Coast is particularly vulnerable. In 2009, the Federal Government produced a report on “Climate Change Risks to Australia’s Coast - A First Pass National Assessment10.72 MB”. Key findings for NSW included:
- Between 40,800 and 62,400 residential buildings may be at risk of inundation from a sea-level rise of 1.1 metres and storm tide associated with a 1-in-100 year storm.
- The replacement value (in 2009) of the residential buildings at risk is between $12.4 billion and $18.7 billion.
- Local government areas (LGA) of Lake Macquarie, Wyong, Gosford, Wollongong, Shoalhaven and Rockdale represent over 50 per cent of the residential buildings at risk in NSW.
In October 2019, a further report was produced by XDI Pty Ltd (not a government report) - “Climate Change Risk to Australia’s Built Environment - A Second Pass National Assessment”. The report considered more hazards - riverine flooding, coastal inundation, forest fire and subsidence. It assessed climate risk to over 15 million addresses in 544 local government areas (LGAs) between 2020 and 2100.
The findings ranked the top 10 LGAs at risk from a list of 266 across Australia with over 10,000 addresses. The Central Coast ranked number 5 for all hazards, both now and in 2100.
Our community cares about Climate Change.
The community made it clear through consultation processes that they want Council to address climate change and its impacts. This includes through strategic and responsible planning.
A recent decision by the Administrator to opt in to an Optional Planning Clause for Natural Disasters raises concerns (8 Feb 2021 report and attachment) . The intent of the clause from NSW Planning is to “ensure that … consent can be granted for the repair or replacement of a dwelling that was damaged or destroyed by a natural disaster despite any provisions in the relevant LEP that would otherwise prevent the consent authority from doing so”.
In theory this seems fair - people should be able to rebuild as quickly as possible to return to normal life without too much bureaucracy. Some residents on the South Coast are experiencing what appear to be unacceptable delays.
In practice, the clause may provide a way of bypassing planning rules that exist to respond to future climate risk. It may also provide loopholes to avoid other planning controls. The clause will be introduced through a SEPP that overrides Council’s planning rules.
Council was able to choose not to “opt in” and instead include a local version of the clause through negotiation with the Department of Planning. The Administrator did not take up this option and the impacts could be far-reaching. The Administrator considered and approved this item in less than one (1) minute.
Further, it appears that the current staff restructure will weaken Council’s ability to engage with communities and respond to climate change. Cost cutting now in this area will ultimately lead to greater expense for our community in the future.
The risks are very real for the Central Coast. As stated in the XDI Report: “Significant shifts in extreme weather events are already underway and have caused unprecedented natural disasters. The severity and frequency of these events will only increase in the future.... given the scale of changes underway policy makers are not moving nearly fast enough to prevent significant disruption to our economy and society.”
The responsibility to act on climate change and its impacts lies with all levels of government - Federal, State and our Council.
Posted: 12 October, 2021