Apr 1, 2022: These floods are no joke

In our last Newsletter I made the suggestion that we shouldn’t be building homes in flood plains, especially as the evidence mounts that climate change is bringing more extreme weather events combined with the ongoing threat of rising sea levels. But it seems the NSW government disagrees.

Image source: Herald Sun

Prior to making his losing bid to become Premier of New South Wales, Rob Stokes, as Minister for Planning had put forward a set of ‘Planning Principles’ which aimed to ‘emphasise sustainable development (particularly climate change mitigation and adaptation, and enhanced resilience), place-based thinking, integration of infrastructure, affordable housing, the conservation and management of natural resources, and early and sustained engagement with Aboriginal people‘. That all sounds like pretty sensible stuff to me, especially the part about climate change mitigation, adaptation and resilience as we watch Lismore and other towns in the north of the state go under water for the second time in a month. But, according to this article, the new ‘Minister for Homes’, Anthony Roberts, has scrapped those Planning Principles under pressure from the Premier, Dominic Perotet, to ‘deliver more homes’. So be prepared to see thousands more unsustainable and energy-inefficient homes sprouting up in a flood plain near you because, apparently, that’s the only way we can deliver enough homes to meet the demand.

But, if the predictions are correct and if climate change brings more extreme flooding in the future, be prepared to see a lot of those homes go under water. Also be prepared for tax-payers to be asked to foot the bill for the clean up because insurance companies probably won’t be covering them. In a really tragic way, this may well solve the problem of housing affordability. If insurance companies refuse to cover homes in flood or bushfire prone areas, no-body will want to buy them so prices will fall through the floor in those areas. That could mean that the less wealthy members of our society, those who won’t be able to afford to buy or build homes in safe and insurable places, will have no choice but to live in the danger zones with no insurance. This is a disaster in the making and that’s not even accounting for the potential for sea levels to rise.

According to this article from propertyupdate.com.au there is already $25billion worth of property ‘exposed to high coastal risk’. Of course a lot of that ‘waterfront’ property is at the very high-value end of the housing market in the most sort-after locations. But that could change very quickly if those homes also become uninsurable.

Getting back to our last Newsletter, a lot of people seem to agree with me that we shouldn’t be building in flood plains but others thought I was being uncharitable to the people who have been devastated by the recent floods.

So, in the interests of fairness, here is the response I received from long-time reader, Doug, who owns a place in Lismore that was damaged in the recent floods…

Andy,
I wanted to put forward another view. It is all very well to restrict new development on floodplains, but decisions made on existing information is usually considered best practice. In my case, we were right on the edge of the old flood area, so were allowed to build with 400 freeboard. We built 900 above old maximum flood height. This was considered a bit of an overkill! Unfortunately our flood was 2.5M above old maximum flood height.

Much of Lismore is old timber frame building that survive floods fairly well. Unfortunately, due to the depth of water
some buildings are physically damaged. I feel some houses will be resumed, but most repaired. There are some
that will move but most are held by work & family. Personally, I feel the probability of another 1:1000 yr flood is low but who knows? Global warming means for every degree the atmosphere holds 7% more water.

Lismore is definitely a Disaster area. All our Industrial area was built at 13M, so every business went under. Huge cost in jobs, resources, & infrastructure. Apparently Scomo is here to help, but it is probably too little, too late for many. The other issue is that if towns such as Lismore move out of the floodplain, it will take over valuable farmland, affecting food supplies.

What I feel is needed:
-National Compensation insurance (so people can insure at affordablt prices. (Much like NZ)
-Work to slow flooding by increased vegetation barriers around creeks & rivers, as well as possibly a diversion channel around Lismore. Lismore is at the Confluence of 2 rivers, at a natural pinch. That is why this flood was ultra high. Having 1M of rain in a few weeks, with the last 500mm in about 3 weeks caused this horrific flood. Sydneys rain is nothing comparitively.

It is interesting to compare Darwin when Gough was PM: They had resources & management there within 24 hours. Scomo has taken 2 weeks to even announce help (abt 200 Army & eqpt already here, but not enough yet). The overall size of the disaster is similar to Cyclone Tracy.

Feel free to edit this & put it out please. Lismore is in real trouble. Consider the damage from a flood where 12M is a Major flood (that will just top the wall) but this one was 14.5M : THAT is an incredible amount of water! All our sub-stations were flooded, causing huge damage. It might take 3 months to fully power the Industrial area. As an example, there is a picture of a washing machine caught in power wires!

Regards, Doug

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