Our at times dry landscape and the risk of bush fires means that planning for bush fire protection has been integrated into the NSW Planning system. There are roles to play by the general public, Councils and the NSW Rural Fire Service to ensure that the risk of bush fires damaging property is minimised. Provisions for assessing bush fire risk were mostly introduced into the planning system in August 2002 following substantial bush fires and have been subject to a number of amendments since.
Bush fire prone land maps are prepared by Councils and certified by the Rural Fire Service. These maps normally cover the entire local government area and are available on Council websites. A Section 10.7 Planning Certificate issued by Council for a property will also identify if a property is bush fire prone.
The bush fire prone land map should identify if land is within the following categories:
Vegetation Category 1 - Represents forests, woodlands, heathlands, pine plantations and wetlands
Vegetation Category 2 - Represents grasslands, scrublands, rainforests, open woodlands and mallee
Buffer Zones - Land within 100m of category 1 or 30m of category 2.
Non-Bush fire Prone - Land categorised as not being subject to substantial bush fire risk
Complying Development may occur on bush fire prone land in certain circumstances, although it requires compliance with Australian Standard AS3959-2009 Construction of buildings on Bushfire prone land. Complying Development is not allowed on high risk bush fire prone land ie. bush fire attack level (BAL) 40 or BAL flame zone.
If a person wishes to pursue Complying Development on bush fire prone land, they must engage a bushfire consultant or Council to certify that the land meets the above BAL requirements. Once the BAL is known, Council or an accredited certifier must certify that the development complies with AS3959-2009 and can issue a CDC on this basis.
Section 4.14 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 provides that consent must not be granted to a Development Application unless the consent authority is satisfied that:
(a) the development conforms to the specifications and requirements of the version (as prescribed by the regulations) of the document entitled Planning for Bush Fire Protection prepared by the NSW Rural Fire Service in co-operation with the Department (or, if another document is prescribed by the regulations for the purposes of this paragraph, that document) that are relevant to the development (the relevant specifications and requirements), or
(b) has been provided with a certificate by a person who is recognised by the NSW Rural Fire Service as a qualified consultant in bush fire risk assessment stating that the development conforms to the relevant specifications and requirements.
If a development does not meet the requirements of the above, the consent authority may grant consent only if it has consulted with the Commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service concerning measures to be taken with respect to the development to protect persons, property and the environment from danger that may arise from a bush fire. (This process would involve Council referring the DA to RFS for approval).
Further to the above and as described in my article on Integrated Development, certain types of development ie. development for a residential or rural residential subdivision, or development for a "special fire protection purpose" (eg. seniors living, schools) requires referral by Council to RFS and their approval. This provides a higher level of scrutiny on bush fire risks than the Complying Developments or standard development applications requiring assessment under Section 4.14 of the Act.
Councils are required to consult with the Rural Fire Service when preparing an LEP, therefore any planning proposal for rezoning on bush fire prone land will likely require a bush fire report. These reports may also be required for larger integrated Development Applications. The RFS provides a list of submission requirements for all applications on their website.
Note that a review of Planning for Bushfire Protection (2006) has been conducted and a new version is expected to be adopted shortly.
For any further enquiries regarding the planning system and development on bush fire prone land, feel free to get in contact.