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Our research shows that councils aren’t prepared for floods in south-west Sydney.

Our research shows that councils aren’t prepared for floods in south-west Sydney.

as floods hit south-west Sydney, our research shows councils aren't prepared

As extreme rains batter the area and floodwaters rise quickly, thousands of people in south-western Sydney were ordered to evacuate. The downpour Expectations are that it will continue for days.

This is an especially beautiful region. Western SydneyClimate-related disasters are not something that is new to the area. Rain is falling on catchments which were already affected by severe flooding in March 2013. Western Sydney is also susceptible to extreme heat. 8-10℃ hotterDuring heatwaves, east Sydney is better than east Sydney.

Local councils are the closest level of government to communities. They help determine how resilient regions are to disasters such as floods. But are they prepared for the more severe and frequent disasters that climate change will bring?

According to Our new researchEight Western Sydney councils have found the answer to this question. We find it’s not easy to deliver action on the ground as these councils try to balance competing priorities in urban development, with limited resources and stretched budgets.

Floodwaters flood Camden, south-western Sydney
AAP Image/Dean Lewins

Balancing responsibilities

Floods can cause disasters, and state and territory governments may declare a state-of-emergency and issue evacuation orders.

But Local councilsYou are in a central place to increase community resilience, and communicate directly with locals. This includes flood mapping and limiting development near high-risk areas. Residents also need to be aware of evacuation routes.

These responsibilities must be clearly distinguished [is crucial for] Western Sydney, which is one of Australia’s Regions with the fastest growthFeels the devastating effects Climate change intensely.




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In a constant crisis management cycle, the Western Sydney councils are currently dealing in multiple disasters. At the same time, they’re tasked with pushing forward the NSW government’s housing and infrastructure Development targetsWhich? Includes almost every aspect of buildingBetween 2016 and 2036, 185,000 homes

Do they have the resources to deal with this combination of a lack in staff and funding?

Western Sydney is one of Australia’s fastest growing regions.
Shutterstock

What we found

We analysed150 local government planning documents and policies, as well local health district strategies. We also conducted 22 stakeholder meetings across the eight Western Sydney Councils.

The good news? Each council recognizes the importance to address climate risk and shows a strong commitment in implementing sustainability and climate resilience strategies. While there is progress in reducing the impact of climate change on our health and well being, these strategies are still in very early stages.

According to our interviews, there’s a strong desire to do more, and all councils agree emergency preparedness and recovery work must take priority. While the NSW government is not required to provide emergency preparedness and recovery work, it is a good example of how NSW can be done. Resilience program aims to address this, it doesn’t necessarily align with the unique risks each local community faces.




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Acting quickly to move from planning to implementing strategies – such as redesigning buildings to match climate predictions – just isn’t in their capacity. In fact, the councils were unable to achieve this in the time required to mitigate the next climate crises event.

Despite councils receiving money from the NSW government’s Assistance for disastersFunding is often limited and they may struggle to pay for the costs of recovery from flooding. It can take weeks or months to get local communities back on track.

According to the councils, this means that funds already limited are pulled away from other projects, such as long term sustainability goals or essential day-to-day provisions.

The city councils of Penrith, Fairfield, and Hawkesbury are particularly in trouble. They suffered the worst flooding in 50 year’s last March and now face flood alerts at Hawkesbury–Nepean River.

New Windsor Bridge, which was submerged in floodwaters last March.
AAP Image/James Gourley

State government undermines local decisions

Despite these difficulties councils repeatedly told us that the greatest barrier to delivering sustainable, resilient and climate-ready development in Western Sydney was NSW state planning directives.

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The state policies are in control of local plans and policies in the planning system. Local councils often have difficulty implementing their own strategies.

The result is that pressure from the state government to build more housing developments can undermine local councils’ policies to, for instance, preserve agricultural land and open spaces – measures that protect against flooding.




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Indeed, this year’s floods have once again shown How difficult pro-growth agendas and “development for development’s sake” can be.

The Recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes it clear flooding will increase in scale and frequency, and over-development (part of a problem termed “maladaptation”) will exacerbate the damage it inflicts.

Council decisions are affected by planning directives from the state government.
AAP Image/Dean Lewins

What needs to be done? Our research provides a clear roadmap to help local and state governments better prepare.

This includes more consistency and leadership from the state government, greater collaboration between councils at different levels of government, increased capacity-building, and targeted funding.

What’s planned and built today must guarantee the safety, health and well-being of existing and new communities. More of us will survive in uncertain times if we give councils the right resources.

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