News

Risky homes still being approved on Australia's coast


7 March 2012

Waterfront homes are at risk of rising sea levels due to climate change.
Waterfront homes are at risk of rising sea levels due to climate change.

New homes worth hundreds of millions of dollars are being approved in Australia's coastal zones under local government planning controls that haven't been updated to account for climate change impacts, warns a report launched today.

"Of the estimated 711,000 homes located in the coastal zone, up to 35 percent are at risk of inundation under a sea level rise scenario of 1.1 metres," says the report's lead author Associate Professor Nicole Gurran, the acting head of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Sydney.

The report, commissioned by the National Sea Change Task Force and to be launched at this week's 2012 Australian Coastal Councils Conference, found that less than a fifth of local government areas surveyed had changed their planning controls to adapt to climate change.

On a more positive note, more than half of respondents said they had commenced reviews of their planning schemes, while the remainder intended to do so in the near future.

At particular risk are some of the nation's fastest growing population areas, including Victoria's Bass Coast, South East Queensland, Townsville and Cairns, Wollongong, Lake Macquarie, and Newcastle in NSW and Capel and Busselton in Western Australia.

The pressures on these areas - with annual growth rates more than double the national rate of 1.7 percent - are compounded by demand for second homes and the growth of tourism-related development.

"Local councils face a real dilemma," says Associate Professor Gurran. "If they refuse a development on the basis of potential climate change impacts they may be challenged in court. But if they approve developments they may be liable for future damages."

She added: "Council staff also reported local community 'pushback' and scepticism towards climate change and potential impacts for coastal regions. In some cases, landholders and developers have become more vocal in opposing development restrictions associated with climate risk management.

"Council representatives also reported existing property owners expressing concerns about declining property values if particular properties are identified as being at risk, leading in some cases to maps showing at-risk properties not being made publicly available.

"Some council representatives also spoke of an influx of some of the country's wealthiest people into coastal areas with an attitude that, with 'mates in high places', they don't need to abide by local council rulings.

"To further complicate matters, some council representatives were concerned about the quality and independence of risk assessments conducted by private sector consultants, and the ability of unqualified council staff to make decisions based on those assessments."


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For a copy of the paper, or other media enquiries: Katie Szittner, 0478 316 809, 02 9351 2261, katie.szittner@sydney.edu.au