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New planning rules to handle short-stay accommodation sees high-risk areas ruled out

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
The Shire of Augusta-Margaret River is concerned about the creep of short-stay accommodation into high bushfire-risk areas, including places affected by the 2011 bushfires.
Camera IconThe Shire of Augusta-Margaret River is concerned about the creep of short-stay accommodation into high bushfire-risk areas, including places affected by the 2011 bushfires. Credit: Will Russell/Getty Images

New rules around short stay approvals are designed to make the process clearer and easier for applicants, despite a backlash from some operators.

The Shire of Augusta-Margaret River council will soon decide on a revision of its policy to halt the creep of Airbnb-style accommodation into areas with high fire risk.

Under the review first flagged by now-Shire president Julia Meldrum back in 2022, locations across the region would be classed in low, medium and high bushfire safety zones – and short stays would not be supported in the red zones at all.

However, briefing councillors last week, strategic planning manager Matt Cuthbert said operators in the low- and medium-risk zones would find the application process easier.

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Mr Cuthbert said the Shire was also confident about its policies that had twice defeated challenges before the State Administrative Tribunal.

The power of local government to determine applications was also upheld by the State Government’s Parliamentary review into the sector, he said.

However, some operators were likely to be unhappy about the changes because the Shire received 71 objections out of 92 responses during public consultation.

Mr Cuthbert said the majority of those opposed feared renewal of permits or refused applications.

“The policy does not prevent anyone from lodging an application,” he said.

“There are real concerns about bushfire safety.”

However, there was “a presumption against approval in high-risk areas”.

The review stemmed from concerns about an increase in operators in the rural zone, but due to the low number of applicants, that was not factored into the policy review set to be considered by councillors next week.

“What people are saying to us is ‘I can prove it’s not as risky as you think it is’,” he said.

“It will be an easier process because the thing that holds up an application, solely, is bushfire (assessment).”

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services questioned the Shire’s methodology for determining risk zones, which was based on the local government’s long-standing bushfire risk management plan that was due for review.

However, Mr Cuthbert said planners sought to avoid another costly review of bushfire zones in the region, with the added benefit low- and medium-risk applicants would not have to engage their own consultants.

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