‘Treechange’ alternatives required for Melbourne suburbs

By Rob O’Brien

State and local governments must look at alternative forms of settlement in the wake of the Victorian bushfires, according to KPMG consultant and demographer Bernard Salt.

Salt told GovernmentNews that a forecasted boom in Victoria’s population and the trend for people to seek a ‘treechange’ lifestyle had put pressure on existing infrastructure in regional communities.
Melbourne is expected to grow by a million people, topping 6.2 million in 2020, which is a decade earlier than originally forecast. It is forecast to overtake Sydney as Australia’s largest city within 20 years.

Pressure is being put on the regions to accommodate such huge numbers. According to Salt more than 10,000 Victorians a year have moved to ‘treechange’ towns, such as Kinglake and Marysville, since 2000.

“The issue isn’t providing housing in the country, the issue is providing housing in hilly, Eucalypt-infested terrain, where, if fire gets into it, it’s going to wreak havoc,” he said.

According to the 2006 Census there were 161 non-coastal cities, towns and villages like Kinglake and Marysville, with a population of more than 200 residents within 150km of the centre of Melbourne.

Between 2001 and 2006 a total of 17 "new towns" popped up in Victoria’s prime ‘treechange’ zone. 

“When you multiply towns like that, that’s 17 more geographic points that a fire can bump into, wouldn’t it be bet to have a fewer number of bigger communities where you can leverage fire protection services against the fires," Salt said.

“There are so many settlements dotted around – in that north-west corner of Melbourne, there are hundreds of tiny little hamlets that date back to the gold rush – that if a fire gets in there, it’s going to bump into those communities.”

The city-to-country migrationary trend can’t be stalled but planners should be thinking of alternatives and ways to accommodate the booming numbers of people looking to settle in and around Melbourne.
“To some extent the horse has bolted. In some ways the issues are containment and management of properties in those areas and mitigation of risk,” Salt said.

“Should we be scattering settlements in a multitude of different areas? Multiplying exposure? Or concentrating planning into a smaller number of bigger communities?” 

The Brumby Government’s Royal Commission will look into all aspects of the Victorian bushfires including preparation and planning by governments, emergency services, communities and households; and the overall response.


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