In the aftermath of the January 2011 floods and the Flood Commission’s findings, there has been a renewed focus on managing risk from natural hazards in planning and development processes. Buckley Vann Town Planning is well acquainted with the challenges that this will bring for government and the development industry. Director, Greg Vann, was one of three planning experts asked to give evidence during the Flood Commission.

In short, the development industry faces some ongoing uncertainties while specific policy responses to the January 2011 event emerge. Other new policy areas, such as the response to coastal hazards under the new Coastal Management Plan for Queensland have created similar uncertainties.

Avoidance of areas vulnerable to natural hazards is the basic planning principle, but this requires knowledge of the nature and extent of the hazard which is often imperfect or not available. It has also relied upon a determination of the level of risk and, in essence, the “risk tolerance” of the community. For flooding, this has traditionally been taken as the 1% annual exceedance probability (AEP).

Some of the recommendations of the Flood Commission point to a move to more sophisticated mapping of flood hazard that also recognizes aspects such as depth, velocity and likely period of inundation. While this level of understanding is difficult, expensive and time consuming to assemble, it will increasingly be sought by approval authorities and insurers. Recent events also point to the need for the community generally to have access to this sort of information so that people are informed about the potential risks they face.

Different levels of risk will bring with them different types of constraint to development. There will be different implications for managing flood and other hazards on greenfield land development – where policy emphasis will be on avoiding development in vulnerable areas – to those for redevelopment of urban areas that are already subject to flood risk. Many of these are high amenity areas which are otherwise attractive for further investment.

For existing developed areas that are vulnerable to flood risk, a more complex range of considerations, and potential responses, will exist. Should new development be avoided? Does this make insufficient use of already committed and expensive infrastructure? Does it provide the opportunity to redesign at least some parts of these areas to better deal with the hazard (even if more people live there)?

The response in these areas is still evolving and will continue to do so for some time. Some councils, such as Brisbane and Ipswich, have introduced temporary planning instruments to suspend or change the rules in the short term. Over the longer term, there is significant potential for uncertainties in the development process as local governments and their communities come to grips with the complex interplay of factors.

Government will continue to be under considerable pressure to get the balance right between protecting at risk land and facilitating an efficient development process that minimises development costs and delays (especially within the context of the current housing affordability and availability issues).

Contact Greg Vann or Peter Priddle at Buckley Vann Town Planning Consultants on 3852 1822 or at www.buckleyvann.com.au.

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