Tough standard likely for new builds

The introduction of new standards for building homes in Perth Hills’ bushfire-prone areas is likely to mean residents of last month’s fire in Parkerville and Stoneville having to pay thousands of dollars extra. Picture by Bruce Hunt d413779d
The introduction of new standards for building homes in Perth Hills’ bushfire-prone areas is likely to mean residents of last month’s fire in Parkerville and Stoneville having to pay thousands of dollars extra. Picture by Bruce Hunt d413779d

The City of Swan and Shire of Mundaring are also working through similar proposals that would see all new homes built across the Perth Hills better able to withstand bushfires.

Shire of Kalamunda CEO Rhonda Hardy said the council had been working over the past year with specialist fire consultants to map fire risk zones within its boundaries.

‘The final report and a subsequent Town Planning Scheme amendment are planned to be presented to council soon,’ she said.

‘If the council resolves to introduce the new standard, this will ensure construction in the fire-prone areas is built in accordance with Australian Standard 3959.’

Ms Hardy said the challenge for established communities like those in the Kalamunda Hills is that while the council can plan for bushfire protection in the future, the existing building stock is not constructed to the same standards as the proposed 3959 and the new standards being proposed would not be retrospective.

The City of Swan confirmed this week it would amend its Local Planning Scheme No 17 and require all new homes built in bushfire prone areas to comply with Australian Standard AS3959.

The new standard would require homeowners to use building materials that are non-combustible and reduce the effects of ember attack in the home. Floors, doors, windows and roofs also must comprise bushfire resistant materials.

The standard would likely result in a jump of up to $25,000 in the cost of building an average house in a Hills bushfire prone area.

The declaration of bushfire prone areas also is forecast to add significantly to the cost of insuring all homes that fall within those boundaries.

The burden of having to carry extra costs in the reconstruction of their homes has outraged residents who lost homes in last month’s fires.

Many of those houses were insured only at current value, meaning affected residents are likely to have to stump up extra cash on top of their insurance return ” if they choose to rebuild on the same site where their previous home was destroyed.

The three councils’ move to tighten standards of construction comes after last month’s tragic blaze in Parkerville and Stoneville, where 56 homes were lost.

Swan Mayor Charlie Zannino said all land rated ‘extreme’ or ‘moderate’, or within 100m of extreme or moderate rated land, would be designated bushfire prone under the City’s Local Planning Scheme No 17. He said property owners planning to build new homes on bushfire prone land would be required to undertake a Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) assessment, to determine whether or not the proposed development would need to be constructed in accordance with the new standard.

There would be no requirement to construct to the new standard if applicants can demonstrate, through the BAL assessment, that the fire risk does not justify it.

Mr Zannino assured residents that the new requirements would not be retrospective and would only apply to new home construction.

Shire of Mundaring CEO Jonathan Throssell said there were a number of areas within its boundaries that would be classified as ‘extreme’ bushfire prone areas. He said the Shire was waiting for the WA Planning Commission and Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis to sign off on the zoning proposal and, after it was gazetted, the council would act quickly to implement the new standard.

Stoneville and Parkerville Progress Association chairman Greg Jones issued a stern warning to bushfire-affected residents as they attempt to make a settlement with their insurers over the value of lost homes.

‘We are very concerned that some victims of the bushfire may already be settling their insurance claims, without fully factoring in the new replacement costs for homes, outbuildings, garages and carports,’ he said.

‘Victims need to know this information when making decisions about their future plans, budgets and if these increased costs (for meeting the new standard) are claimable under their insurance policies or not’ he said.

Mr Jones advised fire-affected residents to seek more information from the Shire of Mundaring on how the new planning regulations would affect their rebuilding plans and insurance claims before making any settlement.