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Minns doubles down on floodplain development ban
Michael Sainsbury and Samantha Magnusson
NSW Premier Chris Minns has targeted the Hawkesbury City Council for allowing development to go ahead on flood plains, signaling in Penrith today that he wants to ban such projects.
At the government’s first ever Community Cabinet held in Penrith, Minns also made it clear that there was unlikely to be a buyback project such as the one that is underway in flood devastated Lismore in the Northern Rivers region.
“The major decision we have to make is to ensure people aren’t building on flood prone area. There are a few reasons for that, firstly, you’re putting people in danger, you’re putting communities in danger if you are building on flood prone land,” Minns said.
“Secondly, you may be leading some communities down the garden path because insurance companies are not going to provide insurance to areas that are below one in 100 year flooded areas. As a result, it’s almost impossible to get financing,” he said.
Minns added that it was a key reason why the NSW government is creating plans to raise housing density closer to the CBD and along routes where there is existing public transport infrastructure, taking pressure off communities in western Sydney.
The Community Cabinet meeting was attended by the NSW Cabinet including Deputy Premier and Minister for Western Sydney Prue Car. The event was well attended with the Mayors of Penrith and Blacktown Tricia Hitchen and Tony Bleasdale as councillors from both local government areas – along with hundreds of interested community members – present. Minns held a lengthy media conference where flooding development and housing were key topics.
Hawkesbury City Council Mayor Sarah McMahon was notable for her absence. Also missing was Hawkesbury Deputy Mayor Barry Calvert and his fellow Labor Councilor Amanda Kotlash. The pair have a history of voting in favour of developments alongside McMahon and her three fellow Liberal Councillors Patrick Conolly, a former mayor, Jill Reardon and Paul Veigel.
In June, HCC approved development applications for a flood-threatened property in Pitt Town developments have also been approved on land west of the river which is isolated in many floods.
Neither Cr Calvert nor Cr Kotlash responded to questions from the Hawkesbury Post about whether they supported the proposed ban. The HCC promised to respond to detailed questions but that response was not available at the time of publication.
Councillor Mary Lyons-Buckett, former HCC mayor, welcomed the Premier’s comments, calling for a more balanced approach to new developments in the region.
“I think Premier Minns should proceed with his idea of increasing density along the transport routes which exist within the city, and leave greenfield areas to perform their originally intended function – being the lungs of the city. We simply cannot afford to lose this as we’ve already lost too much,” she said in a personal comment to the Hawkesbury Post.
“I understand the Labor Government committed to looking at a number of issues around development prior to the State election. With regard to development within the floodplain, the safety and viability of people living within the floodplain needs to be a priority,” Cr Lyons-Buckett said.
She called for a balanced housing approach emerged, considering natural constraints such as floods, bushfires, and extreme heat, along with infrastructural deficiencies. The need for two studies under the Resilient Valleys Strategy was highlighted: the Regional Land Use Study and the Cumulative Overland Flood Study. Both studies would provide crucial insights into the effects of adjacent development on flood-prone areas.
“There is localised flooding and then there is the contributory factor( from developments) to flooding downstream. This must be understood and acknowledged,” Cr Lyons-Buckett said.
Minns has said he found reports aired last week in the Sydney Morning Herald that Hawkesbury Council was continuing to approve development applications for properties that are unlikely to attract insurance coverage due to flooding risks “concerning” .
But there appears to be little relief in sight for exciting homeowners who live on the floodplain. Minns noted uptake of the buyback scheme set up by the previous government in the Northern Rivers had been lower than initially forecast and that – despite the risk of flooding – the cost of purchasing new housing meant many people turned down the government’s offer to purchase their homes.
“The price escalation and the amount of money they received from the New South Wales Government isn’t enough to buy a complementary property in the same geographic area. You can have a buyback program, but you won’t have the scope of sales you need to make a difference.”
Minns also made comments about the controversial Penrith Lakes development project which is planned for the Hawkesbury-Nepean flood plain, which abuts the Hawkesbury LGA and includes recreation that potentially attracts tourism.
“We’ve got to get the balance right there’s been proposals in the past that have radically developed that part of Penrith and NSW but we’ve got to be careful about where flooding takes place and you’d all be aware when it comes to flooding in the north west of Sydney and on the Nepean River we’ve got to be acutely aware that we don’t building areas that could mean a future liability for NSW tax payers or put people in harms’ way,” Minns said
“No one wants to be in a situation where we are allowing, promoting or enticing development into an area that’s going to be flood-prone. It makes it difficult for that person to get insurance or therefore financing and in the end will mean they will have to move or be evacuated or there will be some terrible tragedy as a result. It’s a finely balanced thing, I think we can do it, we’re going to be careful, the main thing we are going to do is listen to the local community to ensure we get the future of Penrith Lakes right.”