Poor plans seen in WA fire policy

A leading expert on bushfire architecture is alarmed over WA's proposed bushfire planning policy, warning it could put lives at risk.

Ian Weir said the proposed policy did not support homeowners building to the highest bushfire design standards and allowed homes in areas deemed to be low hazard risk to eschew Australian standards.

Mr Weir, who heads Queensland University of Technology's landscape architecture school and has won accolades for his bushfireproof WA home design, also raised concerns about the cost of the policy on homeowners.

He said this threatened to stall residential development, remove dwelling entitlements and force landowners to clear land because it was too close to a neighbour's house.

The draft planning policy has already been criticised because of its failure to differentiate between urban and semirural areas.

It requires new homes in areas identified as bushfire-prone or within 100m of at least 1ha of bush to have a hazard assessment.

That could include inner-city homes near Kings Park or those backing on to nature strips.

Dr Weir said the policy would allow houses with key design flaws known to lower resilience to be built in bushfire-prone areas. There was also no incentive to build to higher levels of bushfire resilience.

"The WA policy will not support homeowners building to bushfire attack level five and six of the Australian standard," he said.

"This is a serious concern because many sites cannot be managed to safe levels for houses designed at levels lower than these. They will be exposed to much higher risk than what their home is designed for. Key bushfire design flaws, such as lightweight timber decks and exposed underfloor structures, will still be supported by the WAPC's policy."

He also criticised requirements for homeowners to have a 20m bushfire protection zone and hire an accredited fire consultant to carry out a hazard assessment, bushfire attack level assessment and bushfire risk management plan.

"The solution is to allow landowners to take greater responsibility for their safety through good designs specific to their sites - rather than through the imposition of uniform clearing regulations which won't actually achieve the aim of having a shared responsibility in bushfire safety," he said.

A spokeswoman for Planning Minister John Day said he was aware of concerns, all of which would be considered before the final policy was confirmed.

Comment on the policy closes today but feedback on associated guidelines is sought until August 1.

The West Australian

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