EDITORIAL: Planning for rising sea levels


EDITORIAL: Planning for rising sea levels

April 28, 2013, 11 p.m.

FOR residents who live on the shore of Lake Macquarie, the spectre of climate change has created a brave new world.

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Lakefront land has long been regarded as hot property.

More recently though, such land has been caught in controversial planning rules aimed at tackling the threat of rising sea levels.

Lake Macquarie City Council produced a sea level rise policy five years ago, which had significant implications for new developments in low-lying and flood-prone areas.

People faced extra costs with demands that floor levels for new buildings be raised. The council faced criticism for not committing to lift surrounding roads and infrastructure at the same time.

Some residents, who accept the general premise of rising sea levels, say the main game plan should be holding back the waters by building the likes of a levee.

Others say the council’s policy is an over-reaction and a result of climate-change fanaticism.

The council insists it is acting prudently and managing risk in response to hard science.

In a prominent case last year, councillors approved 22 dwellings at a Marks Point site on condition the buildings be ‘‘relocatable’’. Council staff had recommended refusal.

Also controversial was the council placing ‘‘sea level rise’’ notations on section 149 certificates of about 10,000 properties.

Some claimed this caused property prices to fall, but the council – fearful of a lawsuit – denied that.

Before he became Newcastle lord mayor, Belmont resident Jeff McCloy threatened legal action against Lake Macquarie council for devaluing and restricting waterfront properties with its sea level rise policy.

Around that time, sea level rise planning became a political flashpoint in several coastal areas in NSW. The O’Farrell government responded by dumping the former Labor government’s sea level rise planning standards.

That led Gosford and Wyong councils on the Central Coast to drop sea level rise planning requirements.

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Lake Macquarie, though, stuck to its guns and is pushing ahead with the next phase of planning.

It is developing an ‘‘adaptation plan’’ in the low-lying suburbs of Marks Point and Belmont South, with plans to follow in other areas.

Options to be considered include demolishing houses, building retaining walls on private property, levees, landfill and setting buildings back on longer blocks.

The cost to residents, both financial and emotional, will be at the forefront of debate.

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