Caravans and compassion from the council

Fire-affected residents should be able to live in a caravan on their property for up to 18 months during the re-building process.

That’s the proposal being put to Blue Mountains City Council later this month (February 25) by mayor Mark Greenhill following an outcry on Facebook last week from residents concerned they could not camp for an extended period while trying to restart their lives.

Diane Goodisson said her pensioner parents in Yellow Rock “lost everything” and only have their rent covered by their insurance company until the end of March and are keen to live on their block in a caravan while rebuilding. 

Ms Goodisson said “council said no [to the request] as they don’t want the area or street looking like a camping ground”.

But Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill said it must have been a misunderstanding as caravans are allowed on blocks for six months and the council would now look at extending that time, as part of their “compassionate” response to the bushfire-affected residents.

“As soon as we became aware of a concern from residents about a particular case involving the siting of a caravan on a block that had been impacted by fire ... I called a meeting of ward councillors [who] agreed that we should review council’s policy regarding caravans for fire-affected residents and seek a more flexible approach.”

He said the general manager and council staff were also “in consultation locally so that we may include this feedback” into the discussion on the issue at the  council’s next meeting.

Under council’s Better Living Development Control Plan, residents are able to live in a caravan during the construction of a dwelling for a period up to six months, once building work has reached footings stage.

The plan says it is conditional on “satisfactory toilet, bathing, laundry and cooking facilities ... together with water and sewerage connection”. 

Council believes 18 months is “a reasonable period of time for owners to gain development consent and complete construction” and fire-affected residents planning to live in a caravan will need to meet those health provisions.

Meanwhile council has also come under fire about development application fees, but the mayor says the fees are out of the council’s control.

Council had “cut or subsidised all development application fees that it can and realising that DA fees also consist of regulated charges that are outside of council’s control, the ward councillors and I will present a motion to council calling on the state government to cut all remaining DA costs for fire-affected residents,” Clr Greenhill said.

A council spokesperson said council officers stated at the Rebuild Forum on November 14 “that most fees associated with the DA process were to be waived, not all”.

Those fees include the builders long service levy.

The mayor said “since the fires we have reduced our DA charges, introduced a period of free tip use for fire-impacted residents, raised $3 million and started distributing it. 

“If we can have a partnership with the state, where they remove the burden of all final charges, I will be very pleased.

“As mayor, joining with the councillors and staff, I want to see the best and most compassionate recovery process possible for our community.”

To date there have been 24 applications to rebuild lodged with BMCC from the 212 homes destroyed during the fires.

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