Unprecedented bushfires across New South Wales and Queensland provide a timely reminder of the role for planning codes and building codes in managing risk. From the materials and design of new buildings, through to the planning of new subdivisions and rezonings, there are several factors that can influence the resilience of communities and individual buildings to bushfire risk. This includes, for example, considerations of how communities will evacuate (i.e. adequate transport infrastructure), provision of community infrastructure to accommodate evacuees (such as community centres and shopping centres), and appropriate buffers between development and vegetation.

Builders and developers have a role to play in complying with codes and delivering good outcomes to the purchasers or occupants of buildings in bushfire risk locations. However, some developers are likely to encounter difficulty in obtaining approvals for projects in areas with high bushfire risks, which may result in some projects never coming to fruition.

With the number and severity of bushfires likely to increase in coming years as a result of climate change, businesses in affected areas should consider strategies to mitigate their exposure to bushfire risk and liability. This may include insurances to deal with business interruption or property damage, relocating particular operations, and adopting management plans to reduce bushfire risks and ensure employee safety.

As the number of properties exposed is also likely to increase, insurers will potentially be impacted as claims are made. As such, affordability and availability of insurance will remain a key issue.

The Planning Institute of Australia’s... Juliet Grant says irreversible change is already locked in, and the planning profession must address the reality of this.

While Rural Fire Service guidelines have been adopted by the NSW Department of Planning, and ... bushfire risk being incorporated into planning frameworks, there are queries around how rigorously requirements are enforced.

She notes that the type of proactive evacuation strategy recommended in a time of Catastrophic risk rating is “not something we are used to dealing with.”

Grant says we may also be need to look at how community infrastructure is funded and delivered in new peri-urban estates. If community buildings and facilities such as parks and public transport are delivered well after residents move in, it means there’s a lack of facilities residents can use as safe havens.