Planning in Queensland Must Consider Sea Level Increases 1

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015
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The Queensland government’s decision to redefine coastal hazard areas based on potential sea level changes is expected to be of benefit to long-term planning as well as land use decisions by local councils.

The Queensland government’s decision to reincorporate potential sea level changes into state planning policies has been hailed by members of industry and experts as enabling more prudent decision-making with respect to future land use.

John Lane, state director for environment and planning, announced to local council via email that the impact of climate change on sea levels has been reincorporated into the latest demarcations of coastal hazard areas.

“The first stage of this work, to reinstate a climate change sea level rise factor in the coastal hazard mapping, has been completed,” said lane. “The coastal hazard area mapping has been updated to reflect projected impacts of climate change to 2100. This includes a 0.8 metre sea level rise incorporated into erosion prone area and storm tide inundation.”

The decision essentially reverses the preceding Campbell Newman government’s removal of the requirement that local governments in Queensland take sea level gains into account during land use planning.

According to the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection the area currently identified as erosion prone along the Queensland coast is “very similar” to that designated prior to the Newman government’s removal of climate change factors from planning policy.

Kirsty Kelly, CEO of the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA), hailed the decision as a move in the right direction for long-term land-use planning.

“Addressing climate change and adapting to climate change is something that PIA believes is very important for planning for the future, and sea level rises are one of the issues that we need to take into consideration,” said Kelly to Sourceable.

“The decisions that we make in land-use now – what we build and where we build it – those impacts will be felt in cities for hundreds of years to come.”

Kelly called for other states to follow Queensland’s lead, as well as greater coordination and consistency within the states and at a national level.

“At least within the one state there needs to be consistent application from council to council. It is an issue where there are very often trade offs, so we need be very explicit in making zoning decisions in relation to sea level rise,” said Kelly.

“We also definitely need some national leadership on climate change adaptation –a consistent approach and access to the data and evidence that the Federal government has available via agencies such as CSIRO and Geoscience Australia for consistent implementation throughout the country.”

Professor Peter Cowell from the University of Sydney’s School of Geosciences said that the Queensland government’s decision brings the state’s planning policies back into line with global standards, and will also make decision-making on land usage much easier for local governments.

“It’s simply following what’s international best practice these days,” said Cowell. “It provides planning certainty and guidelines for things like development applications consideration so everybody knows what’s required.

“This is something that will make life easier for local governments when it comes to their role as first-line consent authorities on planning matters.”

Cowell further notes that the expansion of coastal hazard zones does not mean that land development in such areas will be completely off limits, but simply that relevant impacts considered and related measures adopted.

“The important thing that should be realised in relation to all this is that it’s not as though the coastal hazard maps affect planning and development in an absolute sense,” said Cowell.

“What they do provide is an indication of where hazards exist – and there are all sorts of hazards – land slip hazards and flood hazards, which doesn’t necessarily preclude development. It just means development should take into account those potential dangers.”

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  1. Grant Spork

    There have been some large tidal surges in Queensland, when cyclones and king tides converge, which is when extreme lows are most likely to occur. After a recent earthquake along the lower edge of the Indonesian archipelago one side of a chain of reefs and islands was lifted 2m above their previous level, whilst on the other side of the plate sea levels dropped by a similar level. Coral Atolls are formed often when a former peak above ocean level sinks and the coral grows up to the surface seeking sunlight, as we can see from the eternity taken to grow a coral reef that has been happening for millennia. Ocean floors rise and sink. Can anyone explain how it is known whether a continent or sea floor is sinking, or the sea level is rising? Any datum you would care to use is going to move with the tectonic plate. Australian coastlines show evidence of huge Tsunami which picked up and deposited debris and left them well inland of the coast, and the centre of Australia was once a vast sea, and then a freshwater lake. Some scientists suggest we were about to enter a mini ice age due to a cycle of very low solar flare activity. Should we redesign our coastal communities based on this info?