Vulnerability to Bushfire Risk at Melbourne's Urban Fringe: The Failure of Regulatory Land Use Planning




The 7 February 2009 bushfires in the peri-urban region to the north of metropolitan Melbourne heralded what many have called an entirely new epoch in terms of weather-related disasters in Australia. A total of 173 people and 2000 properties were destroyed and, as with the 1939 fires in Victoria, a Royal Commission was subsequently instituted to inquire into the causes and responses to the fire. The Royal Commission has heard much evidence about alleged failings of fire response, communication and administration. It also considered land use planning issues and the associated regulatory framework. Using the Shire of Murrindindi as a case study, this paper argues that the location of population growth, and associated regulatory failure, are contributory, yet under-researched, factors associated with life and property losses. The adoption of more robust planning tools which incorporate climate change considerations, we argue, is essential to anticipate and minimise the impacts of disastrous natural events such as bushfires. In the latter part of the paper, attention is drawn to a recent Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal decision which is groundbreaking in its use of the precautionary principle to prevent dwelling construction in an ‘inappropriate’ location as well as to some major inconsistencies between planning for flood and bushfire threats.