From the Newsroom

It’s back to the future for Yamba floodplain planning

Geoff Helisma


Environmental watchdog, Valley Watch, first began predicting flooding of Yamba, as a result of developing West Yamba, in about 1995; on Sunday May 21, the group will present a more than 1,000-signature petition to the mayor, Ian Tiley (or his proxy), calling for a moratorium on further filling and development approvals on the Yamba floodplain.

“Basically, the petition is demanding a well-designed master plan for West Yamba,” Valley Watch spokesperson Helen Tyas Tunggal said.

During the record rain that fell during February and March, many homes and properties were flooded for the first time, some of which were built within the past 20 years, theoretically above any threat of flooding.

Ms Tyas Tunggal couldn’t have been more succinct speaking with the Sydney Morning Herald in March 2007, when she expressed a view now apparent to many Yamba residents.

“When you raise the ground level, the displaced water has to go somewhere,” she said, when referring to the estimated 270,000 truckloads of fill needed to accommodate future West Yamba development.

“Other more established areas of town will flood as a result.”

As it happens, Cr Tiley, who was the mayor at the time, agreed.

“It may be that people who are flood-proof at the moment will be put at risk,” he said at a Clarence Valley Council (CVC) committee meeting, according to the SMH, when answering a question about filling the area.

“A great deal has happened since the council [first] decided to increase [the area’s] yield.

“From the middle of last year, a great awareness of climate change issues [has surfaced].

“It is a whole different ball game.”

According to the SMH, former CVC environment and planning director Rob Donges “acknowledged [there were] problems there”.

“It is flood-prone, low-lying land with a high water-table … we have never hidden the fact that if we were to start the process of West Yamba today there would be doubts as to whether council would proceed,” he told the SMH.

Come 2008/09, CVC adopted the Yamba Floodplain Risk Management Study and Plan, which warns that “it is imperative that any additional development does not exacerbate the existing flood problem”.

The plan recommended, for example, that a master plan “must address water-related cumulative issues”, including “possible floodplain management measures … (if the development is to proceed) [including]: a) a floodway, b) a comprehensive flood evacuation strategy, and, c) [various] updated flood-related development controls.”

Meanwhile, there appears to be confusion among CVC staff about whether or not the Yamba Floodplain Risk Management Study and Plan is relevant.

In a response to a detailed enquiry by Valley Watch, following the public meeting held at Treelands Drive Community Centre on April 29, 2021, staff wrote that the Yamba flood study and plan had “been superseded by the 2013 Grafton and Lower Clarence Flood Model and updated Grafton and Lower Clarence FRMP hence, the queries in relation to this study are no longer relevant”.

However, the Grafton and Lower Clarence document excludes Yamba and Iluka stating, “Flood-prone areas of the Lower Clarence River formerly administered by Maclean shire council from Brushgrove to Palmers Island including Maclean, and excluding Iluka and Yamba, which are the subject of separate studies.”

Valley Watch’s insistence that CVC develop a master plan for West Yamba, because “there are many unanswered questions” about how development is or should proceed, was partially addressed in a Notice of Motion by Cr Stephen Pickering at the April 26 CVC meeting.

“The community is heartened that the new council is taking an interest in the concerns of residents regarding development in West Yamba,” Ms Tyas Tunggal said.

However, she doubted that part 1 of the CVC resolution, to “support the creation of a West Yamba Masterplan document”, would be fulfilled and said part 2, to publish an “information brochure … to educate the community, does not go far enough and does little to address the current and growing problems”.

Meanwhile the mayor, Ian Tiley, told the Independent that a master plan would “absolutely” be prepared once the brochure is completed.

“Part 1 demonstrated a clear intent to create a West Yamba Master Plan, to guide sustainable development and infrastructure integrated with the greater Yamba township,” he said.