Call for retreat on floodplain development in Sydney

The NSW government should offer to buy back thousands of homes in flood-prone areas of Sydney’s west to reduce disaster response and recovery costs, the Committee for Sydney has said.

The urban policy think tank said scaling back development in the floodplain would move people out of harm’s way and reduce growing pressure on our emergency services agencies.

Insurance costs associated with last month’s flooding in western Sydney are forecast to rise to as much as $2 billion.

“As residents, businesses and governments face the stark reality of rebuilding and reestablishing homes, farms and businesses in this increasingly hazard-prone location, we have an opportunity to use that money differently to support [them] for the long term,” the Committee said.

A voluntary purchasing scheme funded and set up by the state government would provide a mechanism for residents to sell flood-risk properties at market rates.

Any land bought back by the government would have its ownership transferred to Landcom or Western Sydney Parklands Authority to be managed consistent with designated land uses, the Committee said.

In a statement “Building back better may mean building back somewhere else”, the committee said that after the 2011 Brisbane floods, the Brisbane City Council had introduced a voluntary home purchase scheme to break the cycle of disaster and recovery.

Seventy-three flood-affected private properties across Brisbane had been bought for $35 million and transformed into parklands, green space, conservation areas, or green links to bikeways.

“It’s time for Sydney to look at a long-term plan to reduce the cycle of disaster, response and recovery that continues to test the safety and resilience of at-risk communities and stretch the resources of our emergency management agencies,” the committee said.