Wiseleigh residents, Jane and Mark Oakley, are upset that their plans to rebuild on their 10-acre plot following the bushfires, have been stymied.
The couple has lived in Howards Road for 28 years without any problems, until fate intervened in the form of the 2019 bushfires.
“The fire went through here, burnt down the gully and took out my workshop, my business and everything, and then went across and took out the house,” Mr Oakley explained to the Advertiser who visited his property on the anniversary of the bushfires.
An organised man, Mr Oakley, who worked as a fibreglass repairer, registered the loss with the East Gippsland Shire and then quickly got a design together to rebuild and went to see local builders. However, Mr Oakley said East
Gippsland Shire won’t issue a planning permit because of concerns regarding the siting of the new abode.
“They don’t want the house where we want to build it, which is near the solar panels that survived the fires,” a frustrated Mr Oakley said.
Instead it was suggested at an onsite meeting in December with council and fire officials that the Oakleys rebuild about 130 metres west of their original site.
“But you can’t just force us,” Mr Oakley said.
“This is a big, open flat area here,” he said motioning in front of where the couple currently live in a caravan and a container, converted into a living area.
An assessment on the property gave an initial Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) rating of FZ (flame zone), the highest on the chart, with resiting options likely to result in a lower bushfire risk.
Recalling the meeting, Mr Oakley said there was no negotiation and the fire brigade was staunch in its view that the house needed to be resituated.
“They didn’t come here to discuss what we wanted, the fire brigade guy just rammed down my throat what they wanted,” he said.
“Some of the reasoning was mind boggling, it’s just bullying and scare tactics.
“They won’t come and defend us if there’s another fire and we won’t be here if there is a repeat.
“Even the builder couldn’t believe we can’t build here.”
According to Mr Oakley the CFA’s assessment of the property suggested moving the dwelling “away from the forest” to the west, or down in the gully to the east, in order to achieve a BAL 29.
“It’s not a forest, we back onto a farmer’s property, who has a little bit of bush on the edge of his land,” Mrs Oakley said.
Mrs Oakley said it had been stressful trying to sort out the rebuild.
“Every hurdle we’ve tried to get over, we don’t get any further ahead,” she said.
“It took nine months to get a shower for Mark.
“We reconnected our septic because we couldn’t be bothered waiting any longer.”
The Oakleys thought they would have been well advanced with their rebuild now.
“They want us on a hill, but Mark has disabilities,” Mrs Oakley said.
“In order to convince us they said the view was beautiful over there.
“We don’t want to live on a hill with a dusty road above it, all our services are here.”
“There’d be an extra cost in moving the facilities, it’s just wasteful and stupid,” Mr Oakley said.
In a letter sent to the Oakleys last month from the rebuild support service coordinator with the East Gippsland Shire, it advised that “Council is required to consider primacy of life as part of its assessment of bushfire rebuilding applications”.
“Does this mean that I have lost the right to consider my own primacy of life?,” Mrs Oakley queried.
The letter further stated that “it would be extremely difficult to approve an application (for rebuild) where CFA advise the State’s planning requirements have not been met”.
The Oakleys had intended to make an appearance at a gathering in the Sarsfield Community Hall on
December 30 to mark the anniversary of the bushfires, but elected not to go.
“We didn’t want to go, we’re not happy campers at the moment,” Mrs Oakley said.
“We’re very patient people, but you can only be patient for so long,” Mr Oakley said.
“We should just rebuild regardless,” Mrs Oakley said.
“It’s just ludicrous,” Mr Oakley said.
“We know the environment, we’ve been here for 30 years, we’ve got a fair idea about it, we’ve been watching it for a while now.”
Bushfire Recovery Victoria confirmed there were about 50 sites that had been identified as “complex sites”.
These sites had been identified by bushfire hazard assessments undertaken by bushfire hazard professionals and the CFA.
Owners of complex sites can acquire the expertise of the Complex Site Taskforce to help them identify rebuilding options and solutions.
In addition, owners of complex sites also have the option of selling their property to the Victorian Government at the 2019 site value approved by the Government Land Monitor.
Jane and Mark Oakley in the garden of their 10-acre property at Wiseleigh. The couple is upset with delays surrounding their rebuild from bushfires. K490-8636