Tweed Shire Council is calling on the NSW Government to expedite the voluntary buyback of homes destroyed by recent floods, to provide viable and secure options for property owners as soon as possible.
Latest figures indicate more than 2,100 properties in the Tweed were damaged in the February 2022 flood, with 500 homes deemed no longer habitable.
Floodplain Risk Management Studies undertaken by Council in 2014 and 2015 recommended a Voluntary House Purchase (VHP) scheme to permanently remove at-risk people from high flood hazard areas by buying their houses. These properties would then be back-zoned to allow for more flood-compatible uses, such as parkland or farming.
As part of this scheme, Council’s flood engineers identified more than 140 homes for buyback. The properties are divided into 2 stages – priority and future – and cover areas including South Murwillumbah, Bray Park, Burringbar and Mooball.
Homes in additional areas, such as at Condong, Tumbulgum and Chinderah, will be considered in a future stage of the scheme, along with measures to try and assist those in high risk caravan parks and house raising options.
The VHP program was approved by the NSW Government in 2018. Since then, 11 residential properties have been purchased under the scheme due to limitations in the funding support available and the eligibility criteria imposed.
Mayor of Tweed, Councillor Chris Cherry said while the 2022 NSW Flood Inquiry was an essential process in long-term planning for flood mitigation, residents couldn’t wait another six months for the inquiry to be completed before making their decision to either sell their homes or rebuild.*
“I understand the Government is waiting on the independent review – however time is of the essence and surely both the 2017 and 2022 floods speak volume enough that some houses and assets are best removed from the floodplain,” Cr Cherry said.
“The Government needs to be mindful that home owners are being offered cash settlements by insurance companies now to begin the rebuild process in the floodplain.
“Once they have sunk their money into their homes again, they will not be as motivated to sell under any future Voluntary Housing Purchasing program – this is exactly what we experienced post 2017.”
Councillor Cherry said a new VHP program should be expedited immediately in the Tweed, before the NSW Government finalised its plans for temporary housing accommodation sites, known as ‘pods’.
“We are calling for the replacement of our existing VHP program with a new scheme that is 100% funded by the NSW Government, and is not subject to limiting eligibility constraints as occurred under the original scheme,” Cr Cherry said.
“It is a much wiser use of public funds to immediately offer to buyback high-risk homes.
“This will in turn reduce the number of pods required and offset the cost of the VHP program. The owners can take their VHP money and their insurance money and acquire or build a new home out of the floodplain.”
Councillor Cherry said Council had also recommended the State Government purchase newly-constructed units at Tweed Heads, to provide more long-term solutions to residents in need of social housing.
“Before expenditure on temporary housing pods, assessment should be made as to whether the people going into them actually would normally qualify for social housing,” Mayor Cherry said.
“If so, it would be a wiser use of public funds to acquire homes that can be added permanently to the social housing pool. This could be achieved at roughly just twice the cost of pods and offer a more long-term solution to the housing crisis gripping the Northern Rivers.”
* The NSW Government commissioned an independent expert inquiry into the February 2022 flood, which will look into the preparation for, causes of, response to and recovery from the 2022 catastrophic flood event across the state.
Submissions to the Inquiry close on Friday 20 May, with an initial report required to be presented to the Premier by 30 June. The final report is due by 30 September 2022.