Safer places will remain

HALLS GAP - Northern Grampians Shire Council will no longer be forced to reassess its options for designating a Neighbourhood Safer Place in Halls Gap.

Council is required to designate Neighbourhood Safer Places where residents can seek refuge in the event of an emergency such as bushfire and is required to seek an assessment on designated sites each year.

An initial assessment of the Visitor Information Centre grounds in Halls Gap, undertaken by the Country Fire Authority at council's request, indicated that the site would no longer be suitable as a designated Neighbourhood Safer Place. However, this has since been overturned.

Emergency Management (Fire) Coordinator for the shire, David Todd, advised council that the CFA determined initially that the site did not meet the assessment guidelines.

This would have left Halls Gap without a designated Neighbourhood Safer Place while investigations continued into locating another suitable site.

"The CFA assessment officer has advised council officers that the Halls Gap site is not suitable as a Neighbourhood Safer Place and will not pass the requirements due to the presence of bark chip across the site," Mr Todd said.

"The bark chip was raised last year during the assessment and was considered to be an issue, however was passed by the then CFA assessment officer.

"Removal of the bark chip will change the amenity value of the area. Additionally the development of the area for the Halls Gap Hub will render the site as not suitable for the Neighbourhood Safer Place as the required buffer distances will not be able to be met."

Mr Todd said officers, since receiving the report, had worked with the CFA to try and identify an alternate Neighbourhood Safer Place for Halls Gap. To date no alternative sites have been nominated that meet the guidelines and assessment criteria for a Neighbourhood Safer Place.

"In determining available options for an Neighbourhood Safer Place in the Halls Gap community, CFA and council officers have determined that providing an Neighbourhood Safer Place in this environment may lead to individuals further endangering their life in order to reach a Neighbourhood Safer Place," Mr Todd said.

Mr Todd said another key factor in evaluating a site for an Neighbourhood Safer Place in Halls Gap is that an Neighbourhood Safer Place is only a predetermined place that people may go in the event of a fire.

"They have not been designed or assessed in relation to other emergencies such as flood, landslide and storm," he said.

"The designation of community fire refuges has also been a very slow process and there are currently no designated community fire refuges in Victoria under the new Community Fire Refuges policy.

"The Fire Services Commissioner has indicated an intention to consider the introduction of community fire refuges through the building of fire stations and other new public buildings or retrofitting existing buildings to the fire refuge standards.

"The Municipal Fire Management Planning Committee and Municipal Emergency Management Planning Committee, along with council officers, will need to engage with the community and reinforce individual planning and preparation to emergency events. This engagement would aim to develop community resilience to 'all hazards' that may impact on communities particularly in the Halls Gap area.

"The MFMPC and MEMPC should also consider nominating Halls Gap as a suitable location for a Community Fire Refuge due to the unique issues of access and egress and large transient tourist population."

It was initially feared by council that Halls Gap would be left without a designated Neighbourhood Safer Place until an alternative site could be found to the Visitor Centre grounds, which would need to be decommissioned.

However, council was advised during its latest meeting that a letter had been received that day from the Country Fire Authority, overturning the original finding. The letter advised that contrary to previous advice regarding the bark chip, the CFA vegetation assessment that was carried out on July 23 of the Neighbourhood Safer Place - Place Of Last Resort, has met the assessment criteria of the guidelines. This makes the Visitor Information Centre - surrounds, Halls Gap as compliant.

As a result of the advice received from the CFS, Cr Kevin Erwin moved a motion that council:

Re-designates Cato Park in Stawell, Lord Nelson Park oval in St Arnaud and the Visitor Information Centre surrounds in Halls Gap as Neighbourhood Safer Places - Places of Last Resort.

Works with the municipal fire management planning committee and the municipal emergency management planning committee to investigate options relating to community fire refuges for Halls Gap.

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