Bushfire zone rules worries councillor

Wollongong Greens councillor Jill Merrin is concerned about new NSW state government rules that make it easier for people in bushfire zones to chop down trees. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

Wollongong Greens councillor Jill Merrin is concerned about new NSW state government rules that make it easier for people in bushfire zones to chop down trees. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

Wollongong Greens councillor Jill Merrin has criticised new rules allowing landowners to clear vegetation near their houses, saying she wants to see the laws suspended until full scientific reviews of their effects take place.

The new vegetation clearing code of practice, which came in at the start of August, makes it easier for property owners in bushfire-prone areas to clear trees around their houses.

The clearing zone extends 350 metres from the boundary of "bushfire-prone land" as determined by each local council.

Beachside suburbs from Stanwell Park to Wombarra, as well as Primbee and Windang are covered, as is almost all of Helensburgh and Otford, and much of Mangerton, Mount Pleasant, East Corrimal, Figtree and Farmborough Heights.

Cr Merrin said the laws were brought in with little public consultation, no clear mapping and criteria, and no consideration for the community's desire to preserve biodiversity.

"Threatened species, erosion risk and heritage will be self-assessed by landowners, leaving the door wide open for misinterpretation and unjustified land clearing," she said.

Cr Merrin also raised concerns the provisions may force neighbours to consent to land clearing out of fear they could be legally liable should a fire occur and said some residents could be lulled into a false sense of security about the bushfire safety of their home.

"The science actually says that, under severe fire conditions, vegetation clearing around your house is not very effective because it's the threat of embers, which can travel up to 30 kilometres ahead of a fire, that are much more a risk," she said.

"[So the laws are] not justified by the science into bushfire risk management."

Cr Merrin will present a motion at the next Wollongong City Council meeting calling for her fellow councillors to oppose the laws.

Cr Merrin wants the council to write to all members of Parliament asking for immediate suspension of the rules and a scientific review into the ecological impacts and the actual bushfire hazard reduction benefits of the provisions.

She also wants councillors to vote in favour of having an urgent meeting with government representatives to ascertain the impact of the rules on the Wollongong local government area.

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