Sunday, January 27, 2013

FLOOD PLANNING


When will authorities take responsibility for their actions? Why should any development - old or new - have to put up with repeated flooding? In a country that is so managed with endless regulations that cover nearly every possible activity and action - one is not allowed to change a tap washer or an electrical plug, let alone build, without involving regulated specialists - why are houses and businesses still being flooded? It is not as though the world is short of town planners or hydrological experts. When we have so many trained professionals and tradesmen who are licensed by law to undertake specific activities that are denied to others - like planners, architects, plumbers, electricians and builders - one has to wonder why developed areas are subjected to repeated flooding. The proposition is that these areas should never have been developed. One can understand that older times may have had different perceptions, but today we know - either by research or by reality - that places are flood-prone. With this knowledge, one wonders why there is not immediate activity to stop development in these regions and to start a buyback scheme that can return these zones into the flood plains/areas that they are. Water will go where is wants to, where it has to, when it wants to, irrespective of political games.



The simple question is: when will authorities take responsibility for their decisions, and even the lack of them? Why do they continue with their spin to allow anything to occur even in face of the facts that spell out differences. Even a simple car parking matter can never be accepted by local government, (the Brisbane City Council), in spite of the geometry and mathematics highlighting the impossibly of the arrangement. I can recall a CEO at the Gold Coast who put forward the concept that the flood plains in the region should never be developed for housing. He was relieved of his position. He was also reportedly threatened to be sued by the company that wanted to develop these areas. Now, with a large area of Queensland and northern New South Wales flooding as this is being typed - 10:00am, Monday 28 January 2013, after a night of raging wind and rain at the Gold Coast in Queensland - the support for the development of flood plains seems foolish: ignorant. Yet the arguments for this action were supported with 'scientific' facts to prove that housing in these areas was, (is? - have things changed?), a sensible possibility. One can even envisage a future where support for these developments will again be strong in some authorities. Why? Why on earth must this be so?


There is a conscious inactivity and self-evident unwillingness to attend to these potential impacts of disasters by governments, until they occur. Governments seem to want to force others to cover the costs of repairs for the results of their decisions, all while continuing to refuse to act to prevent their occurrence and recurrence. Already in this 2013 flood, that was promoted as not being as bad as the flood of 2011 - this seems to be wrong in some districts - the Queensland government is asking for public donations for its flood appeal; and the Federal government has, subsequent to the 2011 flood, forced insurance companies to cover everyone for floods, seemingly irrespective of the risk that usually determines the commercial response. The proposition was that insurers were being unfair – discriminating: unlike governments? What is rarely seen is a government taking responsibility for its actions. It is not as though folk have just moved in and built their homes and businesses in these locations without anyone knowing. Governments have approved these developments. They have colluded with developers to have housing/businesses constructed in flood-prone areas. All excuses have been used in the past to support this activity: "Science; don't you greenies understand? Go away. We'll do what we want." It is a retort that is frequently given to those who try to point out the problems with government decisions and indecisions.

Gosh, areas that were flooded in Brisbane in 1974, have subsequently been developed. The argument has been that the Wivenhoe Dam has changed flood levels for Brisbane, making land that was flooded apparently available for development. This fantasy was given such credence that those professionals who knew otherwise - that there was a significant catchment below the dam that was a concern, (and turned out to be one) - were apparently scared to tell the politicians the facts. It took the flood of 2011 to bring out the truth. Here another 12,000 more properties than in 1974 were inundated - see http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/what-flood-level.html  And what has government done about this? Only whinge that insurers are not pulling their weight, and enforcing changes. What is needed is sensible planning - rigour.


Governments need to clearly identify problem areas and begin a buyback, so that natural flood plains/areas once more become just this: natural spillways for excess water. Pressures from developers to open up low areas for their profit-making need to be resisted. The riverside land that was reportedly given to a developer by the Queensland government for the price of the Pat Rafter Tennis Centre at Tennyson in Brisbane - no wonder the public spaces are so mean - was known to flood: and the new developments did. The flooding has put a stop to completing the planned construction of this high-rise dream. The developer apparently carried out remedial work on those apartments that went under, but how would one feel as an owner of such a property? Will the company be asking for some of the tennis centre back?

Politicians rely on short memories. Sadly rigour is never a part of planning for futures that seems to hinge on spin - that devised by the conjunction of politicians and developers for political or personal profit/gain. The call for 'objections' on development applications has become pure farce. Just what goes on behind closed doors remains unknown, but it has been seen at one time in the Gold Coast City Council how one approving planner was brazen enough to have his name declared in the submission to be reviewed/approved by him as a consultant/advisor planner. It may now appear unbelievable, but it was so. This planner was not sacked, merely removed to manage another planning division. Then there were the repeated reports on how agreements were (are?) being made between developers, councillors and planners even before any application was (is?) lodged – all with the certainty of approval! It appears that there was (is?) never any doubt as to the outcome. One has to place this circumstance in context - this is the same local authority that took exception to the proposition that flood plains should never be developed.


Until authorities take a rigorous stance on development with enforceable town plans that can define, describe and deliver carefully determined outcomes, we will have more and more flooded properties - see http://springbrooklocale.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/why-bother-with-town-plans.html  When town plans are so flexible and variable, allowing every possibility to be a reality at the whim of any person, developer, councillor or council, then disastrous outcomes will be repeated into futures at an escalating rate. And as long as governments refuse to take responsibility for their actions and in actions, and for those of others before them, then floods and disasters will be recurring. Action is needed for future planning that defines denials and repossessions - areas that must not be developed, left to nature, and areas that need to be returned to nature. It also has to include areas that are so environmentally significant that they must be retained and enriched with complementary management – left as nature.


The future does not look good when the current Queensland Government is unable to maintain any rigorous control of existing National Parks, being keen to open them up to all and sundry for whatever. In the same manner the local Council has councillors who are careless about managing futures, allowing anything that can be considered 'growth' to be promoted as sensible and desirable. It has been the perception that growth in any manner is good, that appears to have allowed for all of the stupid decisions, like developing flood plains and a reluctance to manage traffic on roads - see http://springbrooklocale.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/street-character.html - to be seen as being reasonable. What is now needed is a backtracking to reverse the outcomes of these activities and inactivities: admission and appropriate remedial action.

Will we get this? Never. Governments know best and never own up. There is always the classic Howard ‘non-core promise’ to fall back on. Just call for flood donations and for insurers to cover all of the results of silly decisions. Governments seem to have some of that "She'll be right" attitude that some "On ya" Aussies have. One resident - ‘a bloke’ - in Bundaberg was delighted with the flood waters. He told the reporter that he "Just loved them (the flood waters)"; that he "Looked forward to this (the flood waters)", as he waded through knee-deep muddy swirls to get to the pub - the true bronzed Aussie fool - even while all authorities were telling everyone to keep out of the flood water. Like this fellow, governments always know best. They'll do what they want irrespective of the facts - "On ya!": see http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/notes-on-development-application.html

What can one say? Such is life in Australia: a country that burns in one region and floods in another while developers reign and governments 'grow,' worrying more about their own futures than anything else and anyone else. Everything will be OK - just keep the beer flowing: "She'll be right." A report on the television station that is covering the present flood situation, 'minute by minute,' has just noted with some pride that the 'Breaky Creek' pub is still serving beer, even with rising waters surrounding it. What chance is there for better planning in Queensland - in Australia - when this is seen as the ideal? Who would want to lose this opportunity? There is no need for change!


"This State will rise to the occasion," said Premier Newman, 2:00m 28 Jan 2013, on the latest 'minute by minute' update. The cliché cry is, "We are Queenslanders. We'll pull thru." It is a real shame that platitudes just keep getting repeated when no other action is taken to prevent this nonsense in planning. Why will governments not take advice? One can predict, in the same manner as one can with other development approvals, that development in low areas will continue to be approved. It will continue to be supported with the argument that it has been 'scientifically' designed to 'world class' standards so that the proposals will never, ever flood - until . . . well, until we get that totally 'unpredictable,' never-before- experienced, storm of the century – the millennium. "Who would have known?" Well, it seems, no government.
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