By Jessica Anstice
Those who lost their homes in the Bunyip bushfires in March last year are facing major setbacks, including issues and expenses associated with vegetation clearing, adding to hurdles in getting their homes rebuilt.
Planning obstructions and associated costs are among their chief frustrations.
Between obtaining a Bushfire Attack Level Rating (BAL Rating) report and dealing with complications surrounding native vegetation offsets, affected-residents could be billed up to $20,000 before proceeding with the planning permit.
Residents applying for a planning permit are required to provide an offset statement and BAL Rating report.
Jill Clementson, who is rebuilding in Garfield North on behalf of her 92-year-old mother, said she was told it could take between six to 12 months to secure an offset.
“This is the turn key for me – I’ve got everything all sorted but I can’t do a thing until I’ve got this issue sorted out,” she said.
“I’ve either got to pay the money and be done with it but this is not my money, this is my mother’s money and timing is critical.
“You get all your ducks in a row and do what you think you have to do, you think you’ve got everything all organised and then you start to realise there’s other things that all line up to trip you up along the way.”
Narracan MP Gary Blackwood said he believed there was no reason why an exception couldn’t be given for the offsets.
“If we can get an exemption for the offsets then that would save a lot of cost and speed the process up,” he said.
“I understand why the offset is needed but it should be waived because they’ve been through enough already.
“It could be another year until they start rebuilding – it’s just unacceptable and it’s not fair.”
Garfield North resident Arlene’s home was one of the 29 properties destroyed in the fires.
Since March, Arlene has been living rent-free in Berwick, thanks to her insurance.
However because the insurance finishes this March, Arlene will be forced to pay rent out of her own pocket.
“I don’t know when I’ll be able to rebuild with all of this going on,” she said.
“It will probably take another year.”
Garfield North resident Tony Fitzgerald described Arlene’s situation as “totally unfair”.
“The principle is: you should be allowed to live where you used to live,” Mr Fitzgerald said.
“You shouldn’t be having road blocks to build your house when it’s been burnt down.”