Extended bushfire management overlay in Greater Bendigo a fair price to pay: experts

NEW PLANS: Experts believe extending the bushfire management overlay in Bendigo will make building certain houses more expensive, but will improve public safety.
NEW PLANS: Experts believe extending the bushfire management overlay in Bendigo will make building certain houses more expensive, but will improve public safety.

The state government’s decision to significantly extend the bushfire management overlay in Greater Bendigo will make building houses in affected areas more expensive, but will improve public safety in the long run, experts believe. 

About 10,600 additional properties in the municipality were included in the overlay last week, six hundred of which were non-residential properties, such as Crown land or industrial land; 9000 already contain dwellings; and 1000 were vacant.

Most were to the north-west of the city, in areas such as Maiden Gully, and Heathcote.

Associate professor in urban planning at the University of Melbourne, Alan March, said existing homes included in the overlay would not be impacted, unless construction of  houses was extended considerably.

Mr March argued better designed homes might be slightly more expensive, but the cost was outweighed by the public benefit.

“If your home goes up it might take the people’s home next door as well. If we're in a town planning system we have to think about the public good,” he said. 

“If the houses are well designed it means the fire services become more effective as well.” 

Impacts of the overlay on house and land designs could include the installation of a water tank, and more stringent vegetation controls, he said.

“We only get one chance to think of how risky a place is,” said professor March, adding he did not think the changes would have a huge impact on insurance costs for existing houses included in the overlay.

Most houses in Bendigo, which Mr March said, generally speaking, had a relatively low bushfire risk, would be rated as a 12.5 Bushfire Attack Level.

Fires is Maiden Gully and Eaglehawk in 2009 surprised a lot of people who didn't think they were in a risky bushfire setting, he said.

“We need to remember the worst case scenario has happened recently,” Mr March said.

PRD Nationwide managing director Tom Isaacs said the changes could cost home builders anywhere from $8000 – $40,000. 

“During the purchasing process for land with those looking to build, the difference (in cost) could be significant,” he said.

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning said it will regularly review mapping.

Those unclear on the impact of the overlay should contact the council, which is in the process of informing affected landowners by mail.