Asset Protection Zones are a “fuel reduced area surrounding a built asset or structure”. They are important because in addition to managing risk for development on bush fire prone land, they can also significantly reduce (or increase) the cost of construction. In some cases, a reduced APZ can be managed through higher performance standards, though this adds to building costs.
When seeking to amend an LEP through a Planning Proposal, planning authorities (such as the City of Newcastle) must comply with a list of Directions issued by the Minister for Planning under Section 117 (2) of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (the EP&A Act). Under the Section 117 Directions, planning authorities must consult with the Commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) after receiving a gateway determination and before undertaking community consultation.
The Standards for Asset Protection Zones and the Planning for Bush Fire Protection 2006 (PBP 2006) set out in detail the way in which the Section 117 Directions should be implemented. The Standards note that “The APZ should be located wholly within your land”. The PBP 2006 advises that “You cannot undertake any clearing of vegetation on a neighbour’s property, including National Park estate, Crown land or land under the management of your local council, unless you have written approval” (p. 4).
In exceptional circumstances, the APZ may be pushed on to adjoining lands. Section 3.3 of the PBP 2006 outlines the principles that should be demonstrated for exceptional circumstances to apply.
The Exceptional Circumstances Principles are:
- The existing form of development will obtain a better bush fire risk outcome than if the development did not proceed (eg through increased construction standards);
- The building line should be no closer to the hazard than neighbouring properties;
- The extensions should be no closer to the hazard than the existing building footprint;
- An upgrade of existing facilities may be required; and
- The proposal is an infill arrangement and site constraints do not allow APZ requirements to be met.
Importantly, according to the PBP 2006, “An increase in residential densities is not, by itself, considered an exceptional circumstance” (p. 13).
The issue of appropriate APZs is supposed to be resolved at the Planning stage. The PBP 2006 advises that ”Clearly, it is not acceptable to neglect bush fire measures at subdivision and LEP stage with the aim of solely relying on construction standards to provide protection from bush fires. APZs, designed to separate the hazard from the development, and adequate access provisions must be incorporated at all stages of the development” (p. 13).
In the case of the Mosbri rezoning, the amended LEP/DCP deals with bush fire protection via a note: Note 1: “Despite the preferred development layout and building typology for the Site identified within this DCP, any development proposal on the land will need to demonstrate compliance with the minimum provision of Table A2.4 within ‘Planning for Bush fire Protection 2006’ (or successive guidelines) with respect to the provision of Asset Protection Zones.”
More on APZs to follow…