PLANS to build a $3 million tourism venture in the Bickley Valley have been knocked by the East Metro JDAP for failing to comply with bushfire protection regulations.
The application to build a gin distillery, restaurant and chalets on Union Road was lost three votes to two – despite plans by the developer to build a community bushfire refuge to house visitors and residents in the event of a fire.
Union Road resident Aidan Cosgrave told the panel the proposal clearly did not meet bushfire guidelines.
“I have visited Victoria and NSW and consulted experts who were all taken aback that such a proposed development is being so persistently pursued by a developer and a bushfire practitioner when it clearly cannot meet the guidelines laid down by relevant authorities,” he said.
“Under no circumstance would they recommend such a tourist facility on a no-through road, 900m from a State forest without access and egress unless it was on a river bank or the coast to provide a means of escape for visitors and residents.”
Developer Terry Martin said he was disappointed with the decision and was in the process of gaining advice on the next step.
“Late last year the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage issued a draft position statement which encouraged decision makers to be pragmatic in their assessments,” he said.
“It provided for optional contingencies to be applied to much needed tourism developments where full compliance with bushfire guidelines cannot be met.
“While we included three of the four listed, it seems the lack of State policy guiding the implementation of one of the contingencies factored into this final determination.
“If this decision is the final outcome, then the City of Kalamunda and State Government need to reassess their ambition for any meaningful tourism growth across the Perth Hills.
“It is likely that investors doing their due diligence will find alarm with the disjointed approach by government agencies, and tourism investment in this region will be deemed as ‘too high a risk’.”
However Mr Cosgrave said locating a community bushfire refuge at a tourist facility was not recommended by experts.
“We have no doubt that the developer can build a bomb proof shelter if need be, but he has no control over human behaviour and an influx of strangers to an isolated location significantly increases the degree of risk,” he said.
“In the event of a bushfire, residents who might use a community refuge are themselves subject to adverse reactions never mind the confusion and panic that could ensue if you have 150 plus strangers in an area and no control over whether they remain or look to escape.
“Given there is a only one point of access and egress then you have the potential for a catastrophic outcome with some locals using the one way road to leave the area and others trying to access the proposed community refuge and the high probability that vulnerable tourists will be looking to escape the site using the same roadway.”
The draft position statement for tourism land uses within designated bushfire prone areas was endorsed for public advertising by the WA Planning Commission in November 2017.
The statement provides guidance for tourism land uses within bushfire prone areas where it has been demonstrated that compliance with the bushfire protection criteria cannot be achieved.
It also touches on additional contingency measures being required to address bushfire risk such as refuges.
Planning Minister Rita Saffioti has yet to approve the statement for advertising.