‘Impossible to insure a property’: How climate change will impact your suburb or town

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Southbank, Docklands, Elwood, Lakes Entrance and Queenscliff are among the Victorian suburbs and towns at the highest risk of water inundation by 2040 due to climate change.

The areas of Victoria most at risk from rising sea levels and storm surges were identified in research that raises questions about whether homes, roads and businesses should be relocated in the face of encroaching water.

The research indicates much of this area around Elwood Canal will at high risk of water inundation in coming decades.Credit: Joe Armao

Southbank is the worst-affected place in Victoria, with 16,646 properties labelled high-risk – more than a third of all properties in the suburb. Docklands is the next highest with 3270 high-risk properties.

The bayside council of Port Phillip is heavily exposed to climate change with a further 723 properties in South Melbourne (sixth-worst) and 556 properties in Elwood (ninth) at high risk of coastal inundation by 2040. In Port Melbourne (11th) there are 444 properties under threat.

Almost a quarter of the properties in coastal tourist towns Lakes Entrance (fourth), Point Lonsdale (fifth) and Queenscliff (13th) are considered high risk, while the proportion is even higher in Gippsland hamlets Golden Beach (third) and Paradise Beach (seventh).

The council area of Kingston, which includes Edithvale, will be hard hit according to the study due to its location on the Carrum Swamp: 1738 properties are at high risk by 2040.

Victorian Marine and Coastal Council chairman Anthony Boxshall said governments would soon be forced to make painful decisions including whether roads such as Beaconsfield Parade or Marine Parade along Port Phillip Bay should be moved.

“There’s a freight train coming at us,” he said.

Heather Cunsolo, the Mayor of Port Phillip Council, said the findings of the report were extremely concerning given almost half the municipality was less than three metres above the current sea level.

The council’s planning scheme includes flood overlays which identify properties subject to flood risk, including coastal flooding.

Victorian Marine and Coastal Council chair Anthony Boxshall says governments will soon have to make painful decisions.Credit: Joe Armao

“These overlays set conditions and floor levels each development is required to meet to manage the risk and are updated when new flood mapping becomes available from the Victorian government,” Cunsolo said.

The research found Victoria faces property damages reaching $337 billion in present value by the year 2100, but that figure would reach $442 billion over the same period when also considering losses to wetlands.

The Victorian Marine and Coastal Council and Life Saving Victoria commissioned the report, which is based on research from the University of Melbourne and consulting firm Climate Risk.

In response to the research, the coastal council and Life Saving Victoria recommended the Victorian government establish an independent taskforce that would review property planning rules.

They also called for a Victorian coastal adaptation future investment fund, which could be spent on protecting coastlines and in the most extreme cases, funding the relocation of natural or physical assets such as homes, businesses, public spaces and roads.

Port Phillip Baykeeper Neil Blake – who works with schools, government, researchers, business and the community to protect the bay – said there will need to be a rethink of where people are allowed to build in coastal areas.

“It will get to a point where it is impossible to insure a property if they are put in those kinds of locations,” he said.

While much of the focus has been on how climate change and rising sea levels will affect properties, Blake said there had been less emphasis on the impact on sand dunes, vegetation and habitats.

“We are going to be needing to put in reef structures and other things that will actually help to retain sand along coasts to maintain dune habitats but also to help to protect infrastructure,” he said.

The release of the research comes before the state government’s major planning and housing overhaul to be announced in September, which will look to build one million homes in inner and middle established suburbs by 2050.

Fishermans Bend – an area in Port Melbourne where the government aims to house an extra 80,000 people by 2050 – is already known for the regular flooding of streets.

“Significant parts of the urban renewal area are vulnerable to inundation in tidal events, particularly within the Montague precinct,” the Fishermans Bend Framework says.

There are strategies in the framework to harvest stormwater and manage drainage to reduce the impacts of storms and sea-level rises.

But Fishermans Bend Business Forum president Bernadene Voss is concerned with the lack of progress to date on funding the flood mitigation works.

“I’m very concerned. Sea level rises are a huge risk in Fishermans Bend,” Voss said.

Fishermans Bend and Port Phillip – in the danger zone from sea-level rises.Credit: Joe Armao

“I think the planning has been done but what it comes down to is money and making sure the solutions are implemented.”

The research underscores the difficulties of further densification in parts of Bayside municipalities Frankston and Kingston.

Campaigners against 14 and 16-storey developments along Kananook Creek in Frankston – dubbed ‘the Great Wall of Frankston’ leaned heavily on the flooding risk of the creek in their arguments against the proposed developments in recent VCAT hearings.

Those fighting a plan to rezone Rossdale Golf course in Aspendale for residential development cite its high exposure to flooding during storm surge events as a key reason it should be knocked back.

At Lakes Entrance, the report showed 1206 properties are at high risk by 2040. East Gippsland Mayor Mark Reeves estimated there was inundation in streets and some shops needed sandbags about once a year.

Rossdale Golf Course in Kingston is at risk of inundation as sea-levels rise.Credit: Paul Jeffers

In Melbourne’s west, Werribee river keeper John Forrester said the risks to local beaches, wetlands and Melbourne Water’s Western Treatment Plant posed by climate change had been known for decades.

“The river itself will lose a lot of its salt marsh and lose beachfront and that will threaten the vegetable farm growing land – some of which is only 50 metres from the coast,” he said.

Forrester said the council and authorities needed to start thinking about the realities of Wyndham losing its beaches altogether. They must conserve foreshore land from housing developments in case “new” foreshores and public space had to be created, he said.

John Forrester stands at Werribee South market farms that will be threatened by sea-level rises.Credit: Jason South

Life Saving Victoria chief executive Catherine Greaves said lifeguards had witnessed changes to the coastline and clubhouses at Seaspray, Wonthaggi and Inverloch on the Gippsland coast and Wye River on the Great Ocean Road all faced inundation threats.

She said Life Saving Victoria’s headquarters in Port Melbourne, which overlooks Port Phillip Bay, was also at risk.

“It’s not just our headquarters,” she said.

“Straight across the road there it’s highly residential.”

Life Saving Victoria chief Catherine Greaves.Credit: Joe Armao

A spokesman for the Victorian government said updating Victoria’s planning system with the best available climate science was a government requirement and priority.

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