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Mayors Message - 15 March 2023

Mayors Message - 15 March 2023

Wednesday 15 March 2023
Cr Michael Whelan

Climate change is front of mind in Council’s decision-making, heightened since Council declared a climate emergency in 2019. Sea level induced coastal erosion has been a key focus with Council actively involved in managing key erosion hotspots across the Shire in Cowes East and Kilcunda and Inverloch in recent years.

Inundation risk arising from sea level rise was identified by Council in 2014 when it introduced the Land Subject to Inundation Overlay (LSIO) into the Planning Scheme to guide decisions on development proposals in coastal areas. The data required for the overlay was better in the Westernport areas due to the Coastal Hazard Assessment having been done. Recently the Cape to Cape Resilience project by the Victorian Government has identified further areas in and around Inverloch that are subject to inundation.

The LSIO identified two levels of sea level rise ie the level expected by 2040 of 0.2 metres and a higher level of 0.8 Metres by 2100.

Recently Melbourne Water commenced applying the more stringent 2100 inundation test and projected flood levels to their decision making on development proposals. This change in approach by Melbourne Water has meant that several planning applications that would previously have been approved have now been refused.

Bass Coast Shire Council officers have advised they will be unable to grant future planning permits for new homes and buildings where forecasting shows the property is likely to be impacted by climate change-caused sea level rise. To do otherwise would leave the Council and ratepayers open to significant legal issues down the track.

There is an urgent need for Government policy to manage this situation, to recognise the dilemma for people who hold coastal land and who will no longer be able to build on their property. Clear policy direction and leadership from the State and Federal Governments setting out how to manage this emerging situation.

To begin with the State Government should prepare a State-wide Planning Scheme amendment that addresses coastal flooding potential across the State. There should be no doubt that coastal inundation is a state-wide issue impacting the entirety of Victoria’s 2500km coastline. There is a precedent for this approach in the way the Victorian Government introduced a state wide bushfire overlay following the Black Saturday bushfires, setting out requirements for bushfire prone areas.

I have been on Council for nearly 7 years over that time the Australian Coastal Council and the South East Councils Climate Change Alliance both bodies have constantly pushed for climate change leadership from the Federal and State Governments. Coastal erosion has been a critical issue in Bass Coast over that time. We know that changes to the Planning Scheme to deal with climate change are well overdue. It is incredible that the Planning and Environment Act is not even subject to the State’s own Climate Change Act.

I am calling for the State Government to take the lead role and provide a clear road map on coastal planning in a similar way the took over bushfire hazard planning after 2009's devastating Black Saturday bushfires. The Federal Government will be a critical part of planning for future climate disasters.