On January 7, 2020, the Clarence Valley District branch of the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) posted on its Facebook site that 548,698 hectares of the Clarence Valley Local Government area had been burnt.
Percentage-wise, that’s 52.5 per cent of the valley’s 1,044,996 hectare land mass – burnt since July 1, 2019.
Since the fires ended (and during), the three tiers of government have implemented various schemes to help alleviate the difficulties faced by those affected.
The Independent presents some of the most recent schemes below.
CVC receives $1m form Australian Government
Clarence Valley Council (CVC) will decide, at its February 28 meeting, how it will spend the $1 million provided by the Australian Government to assist with recovery after the bushfires.
Clarence valley Council is one of 33 NSW local governments to receive the payment.
“These payments will provide immediate assistance directly into the hands of local councils to rebuild roads and infrastructure, employ staff to help in recovery activities and hold events which bring the community together and bring tourists back to town,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said when announcing the funding on January 9.
The only condition placed on councils is that a program of works must be developed within three months and reported back to the Commonwealth in 12 months’ time.
Councils will be able to spend their $1 million payments on projects and activities that they deem essential for the recovery and renewal of their communities, including:
- Rebuilding damaged or destroyed council assets such as key local roads, bridges, and community facilities;
- Employing additional local staff to take on specialist recovery or planning roles to help coordinate and plan the rebuilding effort;
- Hosting new public activities and events to bring communities together and attract visitors back to affected regions; and,
- Immediate maintenance and repairs to relief and evacuation centres.
Clarence Valley Council’s general manager, Ashley Lindsay, said the NSW Office of Local Government will coordinate responses from the 33 councils.
A further $18 million has been set aside to provide additional support to larger council areas which have experienced the most significant damage.
National Bushfire Recovery Coordinator Andrew Colvin will work with the state government and impacted local councils to determine where this money is spent.
New South Wales Government pledges $1b for impacted communities
On February 9, the NSW Government announced an additional $1 billion, to be distributed over the next two years, to rebuild bushfire impacted communities across NSW.
The additional funding will prioritise the repair and rebuilding of vital infrastructure, such as roads, rail-lines, bridges, schools, health facilities and communications facilities, which have been damaged or destroyed by bushfires.
“The government has … committed up to $231 million in disaster assistance funding for this bushfire season,” NSW Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock’s media release stated.
- $166 million to fight fires on top of the … 2019/20 RFS Budget;
- $25 million to facilitate the clean-up of both insured and uninsured homes damaged or destroyed by the fires;
- $23 million for grants of up to $15,000 for primary producers and small businesses to assist with clean-up and the replacement of infrastructure;
- $6 million for additional mental health services for individuals, community groups and emergency services personnel; and,
- $11 million to fund the Economic Recovery and Community Resilience Grants Program.
NSW Government funds rates payments for six months
“The NSW Government, on February 4, announced “six months of council rates relief to ease the burden for anyone who has lost their home or small business in the recent bush fires”.
The NSW Government will cover the full cost of council rates for the third and fourth quarters of this financial year for residents and farmers who have lost their homes.
Business owners whose properties have been destroyed beyond repair by bushfires are also eligible.
Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis said in his media release that “three new initiatives”, including the rates relief payments, “by the NSW Nationals in government will make life easier for Clarence Valley households and businesses”.
“The [second] initiative is a direction from the Minister for Finance and Small Business Damien Tudehope to all government agencies, to source work from local businesses as part of the bushfire recovery process,” Mr Gulaptis said.
“I encourage Clarence Valley small businesses to take advantage of this by registering their availability at www.tenders.nsw.gov.au or calling NSW Procurement on 1800 679 289.
“The third new policy benefits patients having to travel long distances for health services not locally available such as cancer treatment.
“Criteria to access the Isolated Patients Travel and Accommodation Scheme (IPTAAS) will be relaxed for bushfire affected families.”
For more information about the IPTAAS scheme, call 1800 478 227.
Affected residents that have lost their homes and small businesses will soon be able to take their council rates notice to a Service NSW centre and the government will cover the cost.
Anyone who has already paid their rates will receive a refund.
Anyone needing bushfire assistance is encouraged to call 13 77 88 or visit www.service.nsw.gov.au.
Clarence Valley Council waives development application fees
At the December 17 meeting of Clarence Valley Council (CVC), “approximately 180 dwellings throughout the Clarence Valley area” were reported to have been destroyed by bushfires.
As a result, councillors unanimously supported waiving a raft of fees to assist with the “rebuilding of existing lawful dwellings that were uninsured at the time of the bushfire disaster,
declared on 31 August 2019”.
The Section 44 disaster declaration was revoked on January 7, 2020.
Affected property owners have up until December 23, 2021 to take advantage of CVC’s decision.
The report to council defined a “lawfully erected dwelling [as] one that was the subject of a building approval, building certificate or development consent, or was erected in rural areas of the former shires prior to the introduction of building control in those areas”.
Building controls in those area, the report stated, were introduced “generally in the late 1960s / early 1970s for most of the [current CVC] local government area and in 1989 in the former Copmanhurst area”.
“A development application for the rebuilding of an unlawful dwelling can also be accepted provided that the subject property has a dwelling eligibility,” the report to council stated.
Significantly, the December 23, 2021 deadline was selected because a ‘sunset clause’ in the Clarence Valley Local Environment Plan [LEP] means that “many rural properties in the valley … will lose any current dwelling eligibility if a lawful dwelling does not exist on the property or a development application for a dwelling is not received by that date”.
Staff wrote that they “anticipated that there will be instances where an unlawful dwelling was destroyed by the bushfires on a property that does not have a dwelling eligibility and
development consent for a replacement dwelling cannot be issued”.
However, environment, planning and community director Des Schroder told the Independent that the “council will be working with anybody caught in these circumstances to try and find a solution”.
Staff estimated that waiving the various fees associated with a development application for a “modest dwelling valued at $250,000” amounted to $3,968.20, however, staff also pointed out that “this revenue would not normally have been received if the bushfire disaster did not occur”.
As for the staff time required to process and anticipated 150 development applications, staff wrote: “Additional funding will need to be allocated to provide the necessary staff resources either via overtime by existing staff or utilisation of casual or temporary staff.
“Future budgets will need to take this into account.”
An estimate of the cost of this extra time was not reported.
For further information regarding the bushfires and the subsequent recovery, check out CVC’s Fire Recovery Information page on its website.