OVERVIEW

Under its Terms of Reference, the Board of Inquiry has been asked to inquire into and report on the adequacy and effectiveness of regulatory regimes to manage the risk of fire. This Chapter describes the regulatory regimes in place to reduce or mitigate the risk of fire in the Latrobe Valley at the regional and local planning level. Further chapters explore the regulation of fire risk at the Hazelwood mine, and the fire prevention and mitigation measures taken by GDF Suez.

The regulation of fire risk in the general landscape occurs through the implementation of land use planning schemes and integrated emergency management planning, of which integrated fire management planning is a part. A purpose of planning systems is to manage a range of land uses and a broad range of emergencies, including the risk of fire.

Existing land use in the Latrobe Valley poses some challenges for the mitigation of fire risk. For example, timber plantations and other fire fuel in the landscape can contribute to the risk of fire.

The Board heard evidence from the Latrobe City Council and received submissions from timber plantation owners in the vicinity of the mine. Independent expert, Mr Roderic Incoll, Bushfire Risk Consultant, also provided evidence on the fire risk of timber plantations and other fire fuel in the areas surrounding the Hazelwood mine.

The implementation and effectiveness of integrated fire management planning was the subject of evidence from the Fire Services Commissioner as well as the Latrobe City Council Coordinator of Emergency Management. Other witnesses from government agencies and the Council also provided evidence on this issue.

The Board acknowledges that the Latrobe City Council has inherited land use planning decisions that have resulted in a significant gap between the fire protection policies and strategies outlined in the Latrobe Planning Scheme and the reality of land use in the vicinity of the Hazelwood mine.

The Board concludes that timber plantations established in close proximity to an open cut coal mine should not be developed without consideration of fire risk management. Further, it is not appropriate to extend an open cut coal mine towards existing timber plantations without a review taking place in relation to fire risk. The Board concludes that there is considerable scope for improvement in the way that land use planning in the Latrobe Valley manages the risk of fire, particularly in the vicinity of open cut coal mines.

The Board considers that the Minister for Planning, advised by the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure, and the Latrobe City Council, should investigate amending the Latrobe Planning Scheme. The purpose of amendments would be to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the risk of embers from external rural fires (in particular from timber plantations) entering open cut coal mines in the Latrobe Valley, is minimised. This should occur as part of the regular review of the Latrobe Planning Scheme that is due to be completed in 2014.

At the municipal level, the Board is concerned that whilst integrated fire management plans have been prepared, their implementation is of limited practical impact, as there has been minimal involvement by the Hazelwood mine and other essential industry groups in the development of the plans. Further, it is unclear how plans are to be managed at both municipal and regional level when it appears that the content of the plans, including the treatment of risks, is not known to the agencies that have oversight in those areas. Without an approach that involves the active engagement of all relevant entities, integrated fire management plans will not be adequate or effective.

The Board concludes that fundamental weaknesses exist with respect to the adequacy and implementation of integrated fire management planning, which must be addressed if the concept is to be effective.

The Board accepts and endorses the evidence of the Fire Services Commissioner that legislation needs to be implemented to give greater force to integrated fire management planning, and to clarify who is responsible for implementation of the plans.