It was good catching up with so many people at the two Sydney functions associated with the annual Floodplain Management Australia (FMA) conference this year. Hopefully, next year we can see our interstate colleagues in person again. As always, there was an interesting mix of papers presented and I am eager to read many of those where I was unable to attend the presentation (the three Molino Stewart papers can be found here if you missed them). I must say I certainly missed the stimulating discussions you can have after the live presentation of a paper.
There were also two interesting announcements by politicians at the FMA conference opening.
At a federal level, Hon David Littleproud, Minister for Agriculture and Minister for Drought and Emergency Management, announced the formation of the National Recovery and Resilience Agency and $600 million in disaster mitigation funding. Details were set out in the Federal Budget papers. The challenge I always have with Federal Budgets (and state ones for that matter) is being able to distinguish the difference between new money for new initiatives and old money with new labels.
How much of this $600 million was already committed drought relief and bushfire recovery is not entirely clear to me but the minister made it clear that $400 million would be for community mitigation initiatives and $200 million for household mitigation initiatives. We will really only know for certain what this means for flood mitigation when funds find their way to State and local governments as well as businesses and households. I am hopeful that the Federal Government’s commitment sees a genuine shift in spending from disaster recovery to risk mitigation.
The second announcement was by Hon Robert Stokes, NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces. He explained the rationale behind a new flood prone land package which gives guidance and powers to local councils to impose flood planning controls beyond the extent of the 1% AEP flood. Ironically, a merits-based approach to floodplain development had been the cornerstone of the NSW Flood Prone Land Policy and Floodplain Development Manual since 1986 which encouraged the consideration of the full range of floods and did not stipulate a fixed flood planning level.
This was partially constrained in 2007 when the then NSW Planning Minister, Hon Frank Sartor, after being cornered by a ‘shock jock’, issued a directive that the 1% AEP should be the basis of residential flood planning controls except in exception circumstances. It is good to see this constraint now removed and a full merits-based process being encouraged.
Of course, with any of these things the devil is in the detail and already councils, developers and planning professionals are seeing some practical challenges in implementing these initiatives. Hopefully, a way forward will be found to ensure that all aspects of flood risk through the full range of floods are properly considered in strategic planning and development control.