Bushfire

NB - the Policy framework surrounding bushfire is subject to change. It is important that you regularly review the following advice, along with the Department of Planning website, to ensure you are using the most up to date information.

Words shown in bold and italic text are defined at the end of the page under the Definitions heading.

Page index

Introduction

The Australian landscape is subject to bushfire. Extreme bushfire can result in significant loss of life and property. The risk of bushfire is increasing in Western Australia (WA). This was exemplified through the 2011 Perth Hills fires, which saw the most houses lost in WA in a single event (Western Australian Planning Commission, 2014) (Smith, 2011).

Following those fires, a special inquiry was conducted which culminated in a report titled A Shared Responsibility: The Report of the Perth Hills Bushfire February 2011 Review, prepared by Mr Michael Keelty. This report, known as the Keelty Report, provided 55 recommendations, of which two relate specifically to planning. The State Government has been working since this time to improve planning related bushfire legislation and policy. Much of this is yet to come into effect, consequently the planning framework is currently in a state of flux.

Planning plays a very important role in ensuring developments are appropriately located and designed to avoid and minimise the risk of impact from bushfire. It is therefore imperative that bushfire is appropriately addressed in the consideration of planning applications.

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Is my land bushfire prone?

The State Government has prepared a state wide map to show Bush Fire Prone Areas. This map has been given legal status through the Emergency Services Act 1998 by an Order made by the Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner, and gazetted on 7 December 2015. In May 2016 DFES released the Bush Fire Prone Area Map 2016 which constitutes the first review of the mapping released in December 2015. The map will be reviwed annually hereafter.

The state Bush Fire Prone Area Map can be found on the DFES website through the following link.

What does it mean if my land is bushfire prone?

The Bush Fire Prone Areas Map identifies areas that are potentially subject to bushfire risk. It is a trigger for further assessment of the bushfire risk in the planning and/or building approval framework.

If you want to develop your land, and that development requires a type of planning approval, you will need to submit a report that addresses the bushfire risk as part of your application.

This applies to the following types of planning approvals:

  • Scheme Amendment (i.e. rezoning);
  • Structure Plans;
  • Subdivision Applications;
  • Development Applications (e.g. single houses, sheds, shops, commercial/industrial development); and
  • Building Envelope Modifications.

Development Approval may also be required for:

  • construction and/or use of a new single house or new ancillary accommodation on a lot or lots with a total area of 1,100m2; or
  • construction and/or use of any building where people live, work, study or are entertained;

If the development site is in a Bush Fire Prone Area and:

  • the site is subject to BAL-40 or BAL-FZ; or
  • because of the terrain, it is not possible to calculate the bushfire attack level of the site.

In these instances where Development Approval is required, you will need to submit a report that addresses the bushfire risk as part of your application.

The Western Australian Planning Commission's (WAPC) website has a useful tool to assist in determining what bushfire requirements apply to your site and development.

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What does the bushfire report need to cover?

Generally a bushfire report is called a Bushfire Management Plan (BMP) (or previously a Fire Management Plan). The title is not necessarily important, providing the appropriate level of information is included to enable a full and proper assessment of the application.

There are two planning documents that currently provide guidance on the preparation of bushfire reports:

The City will be providing a template to provide more detailed guidance on the contents of a BMP.

Unless the City is satisfied that a previously prepared  bushfire report is still relevant to your proposed development, a new report must be provided.

Development or intensification of a land use on land with an Extreme Bushfire Hazard Level, or BAL-40 or BAL-FZ, will generally not be supported, unless it is considered to be Minor Development or Unavoidable Development.

The following table provides an outline of what is required, as a minimum, to be included in the bushfire report for each type of planning application. It is strongly recommended that the assessment be carried out by a Bushfire Planning Practitioner.

TABLE 1 - REQUIREMENTS FOR BUSHFIRE CONSIDERATION
Planning Stage Purpose Policy Requirements Section of
Guidelines
Higher order strategic planning documents
  • Frameworks
  • Region schemes
  • Sub-regional strategies
  • Sub-regional structure plans
Frameworks and sub-regional structure plans are high-level strategic documents that guide land use and infrastructure planning at a regional scale for up to 50 years. They do not have statutory effect.

Other State-initiated land use planning instruments include region schemes, planning control areas and Ministerial Orders under the Planning and Development Act 2005.

High level consideration of bushfire risk when identifying potential land for future development.
Application of SPP 3.7. Section 5.1
Strategic Planning Proposals
  • Region scheme amendments
Region schemes coordinate land use and zoning across different local government areas. They facilitate the reservation of land for public purpose.

Region schemes have statutory effect, however, much of the State is not covered by a region scheme.

Strategic ability to address bushfire risk.
Application of SPP 3.7. Section 5.2.1
Bushfire Hazard Level assessment or BAL Contour Map (where the lot layout is already known). Section 4.1
Section 4.2
Appendix 2
Appendix 3
Consideration of Bushfire Protection Criteria. This can be in the form of a Bushfire Management Plan. Section 4.5
Appendix 4
  • District structure plans
Structure plans act as a zoning overlay, providing an indicative design for future subdivision and development.

Strategic ability to address bushfire risk.
Application of SPP 3.7. Section 5.2.2
Bushfire Hazard Level assessment (or BAL Contour Map where the lot layout is already known). Section 4.1
Section 4.2
Appendix 2
Appendix 3
Consideration of Bushfire Protection Criteria. This can be in the form of a Bushfire Management Plan (new or updated). Section 4.5
Section 4.6
Appendix 4
Appendix 5
  • Local planning strategies
Local planning strategies guide local land use planning over 10-15 years. They outline considerations that need to be addressed in order for land to be rezoned. Local planning strategies guide the preparation and review of statutory local planning schemes.

Strategic ability to address bushfire risk.
Application of SPP 3.7. Section 5.2.3
Bushfire Hazard Level assessment (new or updated). Section 4.1
Appendix 2
Consideration of Bushfire Protection Criteria. Section 4.5
Appendix 4
  • Local planning schemes
Local planning schemes provide overarching statutory basis for land use planning at the local government level. They provide for land use zoning, land use permissibility, and include provisions for structure plans and special control areas.

Special control areas are a zoning overlay which may set out an alternative planning process to follow, or specific provisions applying to an identified area. Generally required as part of a full scheme review.

Strategic ability to address bushfire risk.
Application of SPP 3.7. Section 5.2.4
Bushfire Hazard Level assessment (new or updated) (or BAL Contour Map where the lot layout is already known). Section 4.1
Section 4.2
Appendix 2
Appendix 3
If a Moderate or Extreme hazard exists, consideration of Bushfire Protection Criteria is required.

This is to be in the form of a Bushfire Management Plan.
Section 4.5
Section 4.6
Appendix 4
Appendix 5
  • Local planning scheme amendments
Local planning schemes provide overarching statutory basis for land use planning at the local government level. They provide for land use zoning, land use permissibility, and include provisions for structure plans and special control areas.

Special control areas are a zoning overlay which may set out an alternative planning process to follow, or specific provisions applying to an identified area. Generally required as part of a full scheme review.

Strategic ability to address bushfire risk.
Application of SPP 3.7. Section 5.2.4
Bushfire Hazard Level assessment (new or updated) (or BAL Contour Map where the lot layout is already known). Section 4.1
Section 4.2
Appendix 2
Appendix 3
Demonstrate that the land proposed to be developed can be made to have a low or moderate bushfire hazard level.

Identify any issues arising from the bushfire risk assessment/s.

Consider how compliance with the Bushfire Protection Criteria can be achieved in subsequent planning stages.

This is to be in the form of a Bushfire Management Plan.
Section 4.5
Section 4.6
Appendix 4
Appendix 5
  • Local structure plans and master plans
Non-statutory plans act as a zoning overlay and provide an indicative design for future subdivision and development. They identify matters that need to be addressed at subdivision and development stages.

Local structure plans and master plans should make provision for all bushfire criteria to be met at the earliest stage of development.

Strategic ability with localised scope to address bushfire risk.
Application of SPP 3.7. Section 5.2.5
Bushfire Hazard Level assessment (new or updated) (or BAL Contour Map where the lot layout is already known). Section 4.1
Section 4.2
Appendix 2
Appendix 3
Identify any issues arising from the bushfire risk assessment/s.

Assessment against the Bushfire Protection Criteria and demonstrate compliance within the structure plan area, including staging.

This is to be in the form of a Bushfire Management Plan (new or updated).
Section 4.5
Section 4.6
Appendix 4
Appendix 5
Subdivisions
  • Subdivision applications
Subdivision applications enable the creation of new lots and reserves.

Localised scope to address bushfire risk.
Application of SPP 3.7. Section 5.3
BAL Contour Map (new or updated) or BAL assessment for small-scale subdivision. Section 4.2
Section 5.3.1
Appendix 3
Identify any issues arising from the BAL Contour Map/BAL assessment.

Assessment against the Bushfire Protection Criteria and demonstrate compliance within the subdivision area.

This is to be in the form of a Bushfire Management Plan (new or updated) where required.
Section 4.5
Section 4.6
Appendix 4
Appendix 5
Notification on Title. Section 4.6.4
Section 5.3.2
Development Applications
  • Development Applications
Development applications provide for approval of land uses and development.

Site specific scope to address bushfire risk.
Application of SPP 3.7. Section 5.4
BAL Contour Map (new or updated) or BAL assessment. Section 4.2
Section 4.3
Appendix 3
Identify any issues arising from the BAL Contour Map/BAL assessment.

Assessment against Bushfire Protection Criteria and demonstrate compliance within the boundary of the development application.

This can be in the form of a Bushfire Management Plan (new or updated) where required.
Section 4.5
Section 4.6
Appendix 4
Appendix 5
Notification on Title. Section 4.6.4

Vulnerable or high-risk Land Uses
For a  Vulnerable Use or High-risk land uses, the following information (in addition to Table 1) is required to be submitted:

  • Emergency Evacuation Plan for occupants (noting this may include Shelter in Place provisions); and
  • Risk Management Plan for flammable on-site hazards.

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What are the different types of assessment?

Bushfire Hazard Level (BHL) Assessmsent
A Bushfire Hazard Level assessment provides a 'broad-brush' means of determining the potential intensity of a bushfire for a particular area. The Bushfire Hazard Level assessment assists in informing the suitability of land contained within strategic planning proposals for future subdivision and development. Appendix 2 of the Guidelines contains the methodology for a BHL Assessment.

The BHL assessment categorises land within a designated bushfire prone area as having a low, moderate or extreme bushfire hazard level. Different hazard levels may be assigned to different parts of individual lots.

BHL assessments are required to accompany all strategic planning proposals, including:

  • region planning scheme amendments;
  • local planning strategies;
  • local planning schemes and amendments; and
  • structure plans (district, local and activity centre scales) and master plans.

Where a site's hazard level cannot be reduced to a low or moderate level, the proposal should only be considered if it is to include 'unavoidable development'.

Hazard Level Characteristics
Low
  • devoid of standing vegetation (less than 0.25ha cumulative area);
  • areas which, due to climatic conditions or vegetation (e.g. rainforest), do not experience bushfires;
  • inner urban or suburban areas with maintained gardens and very limited standing vegetation (less than 0.25ha cumulative area);
  • low threat vegetation, including grassland managed in a minimal fuel condition (i.e. to a normal height of 100mm), maintained lawns, vineyard and orchards; and
  • pasture or cropping areas with very limited standing vegetation that is shrubland, woodland or forest with an effective up slope*, on flat land or an effective down slope* of less than 10 degrees, for a distance greater than 100 metres.
Moderate
  • areas containing pasture or cropping with an effective down slope* in excess of 10 degrees for a distance greater than 100 metres;
  • unmanaged grasslands;
  • open woodlands;
  • open shrublands;
  • low shrubs on areas with an effective up slope*, on flat land or an effective down slope* of less than 10 degrees, for a distance greater than 100 metres or flat land;
  • suburban areas with some tree cover; and
  • forest and woodlands with a permanent grass understorey or at most, a scrub understorey structure consisting of multiple areas of <0.25ha and not within 20 metres of each other or single areas of <1ha and not within 100 metres of other scrub areas.
Extreme
  • forests with a scrub understorey which is multi-tiered;
  • woodlands with a scrub understorey which is multi-tiered;
  • tall shrubs; and
  • any area of vegetation not otherwise categorised as low or moderate.
Notes: * Effective slope refers to the slope under the classified vegetation in relation to the subject site.
Distances less than 100 metres will be deemed to be undulating land, rather than a nominated slope.

Sample Bushfire Hazard Level Assessment MapPD_Sample-Bushfire-Hazard-Assessment-Map.jpg
Source: WAPC (2015) Guidelines for Planning in Bushfire Prone Areas

Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) Contour Map
A Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) Contour Map is a scale map of the subject lot/s illustrating the potential radiant heat impacts and associated indicative BAL ratings in reference to any vegetation remaining within 100 metres of the assessment area after subdivision works are complete.

It is typically used for bushfire risk assessment at the subdivision stage of the planning process, but is also appropriate for strategic planning proposals where the lot layout of a proposal is already determined.

Where a BAL Contour Map exists from a previous subdivision approval (at the discretion of the decision maker), this may be used in place of a site specific BAL assessment to accompany a Development Application and/or at the Building Permit stage.

A BAL Contour Map prepared for planning purposes should be detailed enough to be considered suitable for use at the Development Approval and/or Building Permit stage to avoid duplication of assessment. At a minimum the scale should be such that the lot number, proposed building envelope and indicative BAL rating/s are clearly depicted on the map, to the satisfaction of the assessing officer. Where multiple BAL ratings apply to a single building envelope, the higher BAL rating applies. The assessment area of the BAL Contour Map is to extend 100 metres from the site boundary.

Appendix 3 of the Guidelines contains the methodology for BAL Contour Map.

Sample BAL Contour Map
PD_Sample-BAL-Contour-Map.jpg
Source:
WAPC (2015) Guidelines for Planning in Bushfire Prone Areas

Bushfire Attack Level Assessmsent

A BAL assessment is a more detailed assessment of the potential exposure of a site to bushfire attack. In the planning process, BAL assessments are used to determine whether a site or allotment will require additional management measures in order to respond to the potential bushfire hazard. It is important to note that these measures are not just the construction standards outlined in Australian Standard 3959-2009: Construction of buildings in bushfire-prone areas (AS3959).

AS3959 provides for six categories of Bushfire Attack Levels based on radiant heat levels. They relate to how the forms of bushfire attack will affect a site or building, with ember attack being applicable to all BALs above BAL-LOW and as proximity to the hazard increases, so does the exposure to radiant heat and direct flame contact.

A BAL assessment is required to accompany Subdivision Applications, Development Applications and applications to modify Building Envelopes. The methodologies for conducting a BAL assessment are outlined in AS3959.

Bushfire Protection Criteria Assessment

Better protecting development from bushfire does not solely rely on how a building is constructed. There are a number of factors that need to be considered in order to achieve better protection. These are covered by the Bushfire Protection Criteria (or Elements) that are outlined in the Appendix 4 of the Guidelines.

Each of the Elements has an overarching Intent, a Performance Principle and a subsequent Acceptable Solution(s).

Element 1 - Location
The intent of this Element is to ensure developments are located in an area not subject to extreme bushfire hazards or in areas of BAL-40 or BAL-FZ. These areas are essentially unsafe both for occupants of development and the emergency service personnel who need to respond to bushfires. Development is to be avoided in these areas.

Element 2 - Siting and Design of Development
The intent of this element is to ensure developments are appropriately sited in relation to bushfire risk. It requires development to be separated from the hazard. This separation can be achieved either through physical distance (i.e. >100m) or if a separation distance of less than 100m is provided, construction standards are incorporated into the building design to improve its protection.

This element also requires reductions in fuel levels the closer you get to the building. These lower fuel areas are currently referred to as the Asset Protection Zone (APZ) (previously Building Protection Zone) and the Hazard Separation Zone (HSZ). The purpose of these zones is to reduce the intensity of the bushfire and consequently reduce radiant heat levels and avoid flame contact on buildings.

Element 3 - Vehicular Access
There are a number of sub criteria relating to access, however, the aim is to make sure:

  • Occupants can get out, and so there needs to be options in terms of directions that they can go to avoid the bushfire; and
  • The road network can cater for emergency service vehicles. It needs to be remembered that during a bushfire there is a lot of smoke around, so there needs to be plenty of room for these vehicles to manoeuvre.

Element 4 - Water
This element aims to ensure that there is sufficient water supply for fire fighting provided at all times.

To comply with the Elements, you can choose to;

  • follow the Acceptable Solution(s) - this is the "tick the box" solution that tells you how to comply; or
  • demonstrate compliance with the Performance Principle; or
  • a combination of both.

Regardless of which approach you choose to use, you need to demonstrate in your report how the development complies with each Acceptable Solution or Performance Principle.

It is important to remember that the bushfire report will be used by land owners, so it needs to be made clear what is required to be done (detailed in the report) and the extent of any works required (shown on a scaled plan).

It is strongly recommended that the assessment against the Bushfire Protection Criteria be carried out by a Bushfire Planning Practitioner.

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City's assessment process

It is strongly recommended that the applicant and bushfire consultant has a pre-lodgement meeting with the City's planning officers during the preparation of the application. This will enable any site specific matters to be discussed and to ensure reporting requirements are understood prior to submission of the application.

Once lodged with the City, the bushfire report will be assessed by the various relevant Departments (Emergency Services, Environmental Planning, Park Development) and coordinated by Planning Services. A site inspection will also be undertaken for each application. Once the assessment is complete, the applicant will be advised of any further information required, otherwise it will be determined as part of the overall application.

The assessment timeframes for the bushfire report would adhere to those of the associated application (i.e. DA, subdivision application, etc.). It is important to note, however, that the bushfire report must provide all the relevant information as outlined above in order for assessment to be completed in the relevant timeframes.

Bushfire reports lodged outside of another approval process (i.e. to satisfy a condition of approval) would follow the same assessment process. The City aims to finalise assessment of these applications and provide an approval to the applicant within two to three weeks of receipt of the report.

Definitions

AS3959 means Australian Standard 3959-2009: Construction of buildings in bushfire-prone areas, published by Standards Australia.

Bushfire Attack Level is a means of measuring the severity of a building's potential exposure to ember attack, radiant heat and direct flame contact, using increments of radiant heat expressed in kilowatts per metre squared, and the basis for establishing the requirements for construction to improve protection of building elements from attack by bushfire.

Bushfire Planning Practitioner A person who holds, Level Two or Three accreditation under the Western Australian Bushfire Accreditation Framework.
Note: the Level Two and Three accreditation levels have not yet been established. In the interim, the City recommends seeking the services of a bushfire consultant that has relevant experience and qualifications.

Bushfire prone area is an area that has been designated by the Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner under s.18P of the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1998 as an area that is subject, or likely to be subject, to bushfires. Such areas are identified on the Map of Bush Fire Prone Areas and can be found on the Department of Fire and Emergency Services website.

Guidelines means the Guidelines for Planning in Bushfire Prone Areas, prepared by the WAPC, dated December 2015.

Level 1 BAL Assessor is a person who holds a Level 1 BAL Assessor accreditation under the Western Australian Bushfire Accreditation Framework.

Minor development means applications in residential built-out areas at a scale which may not require full compliance with the relevant policy measures. Classes of development considered under this definition, with the exclusion of applications for unavoidable development, are;

  • a single house on an existng lot 1,100m2 or greater;
  • an ancillary dwelling on a lot of 1,100m2 or greater; and
  • change to a vulnerable land use in an existing residential development.

High-risk land use is a land use which may lead to the potential ignition, prolonged duration and/or increased intensity of a bushfire. Such uses may also expose the community, fire fighters and the surrounding environment to dangerous, uncontrolled substances during a bushfire event. Examples of what constitutes a high-risk land use are provided in the Guidelines.

Site means the part of the allotment of land on which a building stands or is to be erected.

SPP3.7 means the State Planing Policy 3.7 - Planning in Bushfire Prone Areas, prepared by the WAPC, dated December 2015.

Unavoidable development means development that, in the opinion of the decision-maker, represents exceptional circumstances where full compliance with this policy would be unreasonable; no alternative location exists; it is not minor development; and it is not contrary to the public interest. Examples of what constitutes unavoidable development are provided in the Guidelines.

Vulnerable use is a land use where persons may be less able to respond in a bushfire emergency. Examples of what constitutes a vulnerable land use are provided in the Guidelines.

Links to referenced documents

Current documents

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