Government clears the way

Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers discusses the new land clearing laws with (from left) Penrith MP Stuart Ayres, NSW Premier Mike Baird, NSW?Planning Minister Pru Goward and Blue Mountains MP Roza Sage.

Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers discusses the new land clearing laws with (from left) Penrith MP Stuart Ayres, NSW Premier Mike Baird, NSW?Planning Minister Pru Goward and Blue Mountains MP Roza Sage.

Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill has welcomed new laws introduced by Premier Mike Baird last week which allow residents to clear bush from around their homes.

"It's sensible, it could be a lifesaver, anything that potentially saves a home, saves a life," he said.

Clr Greenhill said he was guided by the wisdom of Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons and his deputy Rob Rogers.

"It's got their backing so it's got my backing".

The laws were first mooted when more than 200 homes were destroyed and more than 100 were badly damaged during last year's bushfires.

Households will be allowed to clear trees within 10 metres and shrubs and other vegetation within 50 metres of their homes.

"It's not a panacea, there's no one solution" adding that "during a wildfire a lot of homes are destroyed by embers".

"It's one tool that can help in what needs to be an armory".

And former Blue Mountains Recovery Chief Phil Koperberg agrees.

"This will save property in the future," Phil Koperberg said.

"It will allow people who feel vulnerable to remove that tree that may one day catch fire."

"If you take the Blue Mountains as an example, there are about 25,000 to 30,000 buildings and many of those are in bushfire prone areas. If the Rural Fire Service has to check all those homes ... this is about giving control to the homeowner."

The laws were developed in close consultation with the RFS and would minimise fuel loads near homes - a key fire prevention goal, Mr Baird said.

"We're putting people before trees," Mr Baird said in Sydney on Thursday. "This is empowering individuals."

"We are removing regulatory obstacles on homeowners who want to take sensible steps to protect their properties from bushfires," Mr Baird said.

Minister for Planning Pru Goward said the new rules will also apply to non-residential buildings in designated bushfire zones.

"Under these changes staff at facilities including schools, child care centres and hospitals in designated zones will also be able to remove trees and vegetation that pose a bushfire risk from their property," Ms Goward said.

A map of the designated bushfire zones - the 10/50 vegetation clearing entitlement areas -will be published once the new laws come into force. It will be determined by the RFS and published on their website.

Member for Blue Mountains, Roza Sage said the new laws were a "great boost for residents" who deserved the right to protect their properties against bushfires.

She had been "inundated with enquiries" about the laws since they were first announced.

"People in my community are tired of jumping through unnecessary hoops simply to take reasonable action to protect their families."

"It is the least we can do to give these residents living in high-risk bushfire areas like the Blue Mountains the ability to prepare their properties."

RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said the RFS needed "to ensure the community is as prepared as possible for bushfire and these changes will give residents the flexibility they need to clear their property from bushfire risk".

But a Nature Conservation Council spokesman Greg Banks said the action was unwarranted and homes would still be threatened.

"We don't think it's necessary," he said.

"Some vegetation can prove very useful in providing a barrier to embers."

Ember attacks, which can occur from some distance away, would still occur, he said.

The Blue Mountains Conservation Society expressed some concerns about implementation of the changes.

"Guidelines need to be developed by the Rural Fire Service to make sure that any work is done effectively and without too much damage," said Hugh Paterson, bushfire officer for the Blue Mountains Conservation Society and experienced fire fighter.

"Under the current laws residents and home owners can apply for a Hazard Reduction Certificate to remove vegetation around their homes to create Asset Protection Zones. The proposed law will allow tree and understorey clearing without any expert input," he said.

"Most people will think trees are the problem when it is more about understorey fuels. Cutting trees down and leaving piles of fuel around is the worst possible outcome. Doing the job properly by chipping then rolling the chipped material is expensive."

A report following the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria by Philip Gibbons from the Australian National University found that clearing trees and shrubs within 40 metres of homes was the most effective method of fuel reduction.

- with The Sydney Morning Herald

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