Planning for flood risks

PROTECTING people against the risks posed by flooding is the central goal of Newcastle City Council’s new floodplain risk management plan.

Provided the council sticks to that goal and doesn’t allow itself to stray into such speculative and controversial territory as trying to guess how many inches the sea level might rise within a certain number of years, the plan should prove valuable.

A quick glance across the local government boundary into Lake Macquarie should be enough to convince Newcastle council staff of the dangers of trying to be too proactive.

Lake Macquarie City Council – having adopted government sea-level rise projections – has angered landowners by using those speculative projections as bases for consideration of development applications. As a result, the council faces a noisy and potentially costly community fight.

That is disappointing, since the energy being wasted on that debate could have been more productively applied to immediate measures to reduce flooding risk across the city area.

The Pasha Bulker storm of June 2007 pointed the way, highlighting flash-flooding problems in such areas as Cardiff, Dora Creek and Warners Bay.

In Newcastle, that storm underscored the critical importance of dealing with major flood risks at Wallsend and also drew attention to issues in the city itself and in several other suburbs.

When dealing with flood risks, the first priority must surely be to establish warning systems and mitigation measures for those areas most likely to be endangered.

Measures might include resuming properties, improving drains, establishing flood refuges and encouraging property owners to take steps to make their buildings safer. The requirement to install flood ladders and raise the height of power points at Wallsend, for example, probably saved lives in 2007.

There may be a good case, in some areas, to limit building densities.

But councils should generally avoid being too proscriptive about development approvals in areas that might – or might not – one day be inundated if worst-case sea level rise predictions come true.

There will be time, in future, to deal with those issues if they actually arise. In the meantime, other priorities ought to be viewed with far more urgency.

A new boat tragedy

WITH another refugee boat sunk off Christmas Island, it is long past time for Australia’s parliamentarians to give up point-scoring on the issue and agree to a bipartisan approach.

Tony Abbott, in particular, should seriously consider whether continuing intransigence is likely to yield positive or negative results for himself and his party.

Neither side of politics has gained much glory from this ugly business and it is time to stop the fighting.

Australians want a firm but fair policy that prevents profiteering by people smugglers, excludes unsuitable applicants for citizenship but provides sanctuary and protection for bona fide asylum seekers.

That should not be too much to ask.

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