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.
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 reviewed annually.
The state Bush Fire Prone Area Map can be found on the DFES website.
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)
- 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 Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage website has a useful tool to assist in determining what bushfire requirements apply to your site and development.
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, as long as 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 WAPC's State Planning Policy 3.7 - Planning in Bushfire Prone Areas (SPP3.7)
- the WAPC's Guidelines for Planning in Bushfire Prone Areas (Guidelines).
SPP3.7 and the guidelines can be accessed from the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage website.
The Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage and Fire and Emergency Services have released templates for the preparation of bushfire management plans in accordance with SPP3.7. The templates can be accessed from the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage website.
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.