Just in time for Christmas, the first development applications to rebuild in bushfire areas are set to be approved by Blue Mountains Council early next week.
One of the first to get plans in was David Bartush, from Emma Parade in Winmalee. He had the advantage of having a builder as a brother but he also used the one-stop centre set up by council and the Rural Fire Service to streamline the DA process.
“We sat with them and said this is what we’re doing, will that work,” he said. “Then they talked us through it.
“The council were really great. They told us if we wanted to alter the building we had to put in a DA. We got it straight from the horse’s mouth really. And it was all done in one day.”
More than 100 property owners have already used the free pre-lodgement service at the one-stop centre in Springwood. Council staff sit down with individuals and go through exactly what is needed, while the RFS provides the vital BAL rating — the bushfire attack level rank which dictates how and with what materials a new house can be rebuilt.
Michelle Streaker from the RFS said many residents were nervous about learning their BAL, particularly if they came within the Fire Zone. But in some cases, they had been able to avoid that zone by moving their planned house further away from vegetation. That not only makes the new house safer but also less expensive to build, as Fire Zone restrictions inevitably added to building costs.
Ms Streaker said the RFS had issued 80 letters notifying residents of their BAL, which they need before any plans can be drawn up.
Environment officers are also on hand to look at vegetation clearing and how it should be managed. The whole process means DAs could be approved within four to five weeks, much quicker than usual.
The centre is a collaborative effort and includes some staff from Penrith Council. One of these, building surveyor and team leader Paul Weston, said it was rewarding being able to fast-track approvals.
“I think it’s good if the people are well informed when putting their application in because we aren’t then going back to ask for more information,” which obviously delays the process, he said.
Mr Bartush’s builder, Philip, said the advice certainly helped him plan his brother’s new house.
“Council has gone out of their way to try and get this bedded down even to the point that ... after one of the first meetings [general manager] Robert Greenwood made approaches to me and said I want you to get a DA in so people can see that things can happen.
“We found them very accommodating.”
The Bartush’s house is zoned BAL 29 at the front and BAL 19 at the rear. They will need to put shutters on the windows and use toughened glass and will use either metal or concrete, rather than timber, on any external verandahs or decks.
And if David Bartush has his way, work will start as soon as possible. “We’re ready to go,” he said.