Commonly, new residential masterplanned communities have an interface with vacant land in the form of uncontrolled grassland.
In these instances, a bush fire prone area (BPA) is typically applied to the vacant land as well as to parts of the masterplanned community that remain exposed to bushfire risk.
Dwellings, as well as development associated with other sensitive land uses, to be constructed within a BPA are required to be built to a minimum bushfire attack level (BAL) rating of 12.5. A BAL rating of 12.5 and higher includes minimum construction standards in order to better protect a dwelling from a bushfire.
A BPA provides a lower level of bushfire protection than does a Bushfire Management Overlay and in masterplanned communities, the BPA is an interim control until the surrounding land is developed and the bushfire risk is removed.
For masterplanned communities that have an interface with vacant uncontrolled grassland and are affected by the BPA, dwellings can be constructed providing the adjoining land is managed in a ‘low fuel condition’ in the form of short cropped grassland to a nominal height of 100 millimetres. An example could be in the northern section of the masterplanned community in the image below.
In the above example, a dwelling affected by the BPA would need to be constructed to a BAL rating of 12.5 or higher, which adds at least $5,000 or more to the normal construction cost of a dwelling.
For such examples, those additional construction costs have been able to be eliminated if an application is made to Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) to remove the BPA (usually a six months process or more) before a building permit is issued for a dwelling, if the above low fuel condition management is followed on the abutting vacant land.
DELWP has now advised that in order to remove the BPA, the Country Fire Victoria is requiring a 60 metres wide fuel break in the adjoining land that is to comprise significant earthworks in the form of subdivision works in order to prevent grasses from regenerating.
The advice from DELWP differs substantially from that of bushfire management experts and from what has been happening in practice.
We are concerned that requiring a fuel break to comprise significant earthworks places an imposition on the developer and in some cases may not be feasible if the adjoining land is in different ownership. Instead, requiring the fuel break to comprise grassland that is to be managed in a ‘low fuel condition’ should continue to be acceptable to address appropriately bushfire risk.