COLAC Otway Shire mayor Stephen Hart has called on the State Government to think outside the square for the Otways’ highest fire risk towns.
Cr Hart says the government should make it more affordable for people to set up fire refuges on their properties.
He said the State Government had good intentions when it decided to implement the Black Saturday bushfire royal commission’s recommendations, but it needed to think of alternatives for towns which failed to meet Neighbourhood Safer Places requirements.
He said fire refuges for each household could be an option, but the government-set fee for a fire refuge planning application was too high.
“Does it become more cost effective to subsidise householders to have a small-scale fire refuge on their property, rather than having a large one which may only serve people within a five-kilometre radius?” he said.
The council is investigating sites at three Otways towns – Forrest, Carlisle River and Barwon Downs – for Neighbourhood Safer Places, sites of last resort in case of a bushfire.
But Cr Hart said establishing the NSPs would cost more than $500,000 each, an unaffordable sum for the council.
The State Government knocked back the council’s grant application for a Kawarren NSP which had a price tag of about $1 million.
“A Neighbourhood Safer Place is essentially an area of cleared ground,” he said.
“The reason they’re so costly is you don’t just have to clear the immediate area, you have to clear the roadsides within a five-kilometre radius and you have to maintain them.”
Colac Otway Shire has eight of the state’s 52 high-risk fire areas but Cr Hart said the council was unable to identify a suitable NSP site for some of the towns.
“The requirements for a Neighbourhood Safer Place are such that some of the towns that need it the most, such as Wye River, can’t meet the requirements for a Neighbourhood Safer Place because it’s so close to the forest, and its topography for example,” he said.
A Bushfires Royal Commission Implementation Monitor report this week found Victoria had only one NSP, three years after the devastating Black Saturday bushfires.
Report author Neil Comrie found the cost of establishing NSPs and landowners’ liability concerns were hindering efforts to set up safer places.