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3 Apr 12
New flood standards for the QDC - a sleeping giant for building compliance costs?

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Proposed introductions to the Queensland Development Code (the Code) could bring about significant rises in building application costs in areas of flood risk.  Planning and Environment specialists Stuart Macnaughton, Troy Webb and Jaclyn Rolfe explore the proposed changes, response from industry and potential consequences to Councils and developers of all sizes.

Proposed introductions to the Queensland Development Code (the Code) could bring about significant rises in building application costs in areas of flood risk. Planning and Environment specialists Stuart Macnaughton, Troy Webb and Jaclyn Rolfe explore the proposed changes, response from industry and potential consequences to Councils and developers of all sizes.

Late last year, Building Codes Queensland (BCQ) proposed a new mandatory part for inclusion in the Code – ‘Construction of buildings in flood hazard areas’ (Proposed New Part) Click here to read the draft part in full. If introduced, the Proposed New Part has the potential to dramatically increase the cost of building applications in areas at risk from flooding.

BCQ held off finalising the Proposed New Part pending the release of the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry (Flood Commission) final report. The report, which was released on 16 March 2012, raises a number of concerns with the current draft of the Proposed New Part. 

New flood standards

The Proposed New Part has three requirements which will establish mandatory standards for buildings in areas at risk from flooding. These requirements are:

  • to maintain the structural integrity of residential buildings during a flood
  • to set criteria for the design and location of utilities (for example, electrical switchboards and lift motors), and
  • to protect sanitary drains from backflow.

Problems arising

The flood standards in the Proposed New Part will apply to areas identified by a Council as a ‘flood hazard area’.

To demonstrate compliance with the three requirements, further flood information about the building site may be required, such as the flood height and flow velocity of potential flood waters.

Where the relevant Council does not hold this flood information for a particular site, a building applicant will be required to determine it themselves. This means each applicant proposing building work in a ‘flood hazard area’, whether a large-scale developer or a ‘Mum and Dad’ land owner, will need to engage an engineer to carry out a site-specific flood study. 

The Flood Commission is concerned that this may be unduly onerous for applicants wishing to build in areas at risk from flooding. No doubt many in the development industry will agree. A site-specific flood study carried out by a competent expert could possibly cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars (depending on the size of the area and the availability and currency of flood data).

The Local Government Association of Queensland, in a submission to the Flood Commission, has indicated that these potential requirements may be ‘both impractical and cost prohibitive’ for applicants for all but the largest of projects.

Solution offered

The Flood Commission, in a bid to limit the cost imposed on building applicants, has recommended  the Proposed New Part only apply in circumstances where a Council has available all of the flood information an applicant needs to satisfy the requirements of the Proposed New Part.

This recommendation pulls the cost of carrying out flood studies away from applicants and pushes it back onto Councils. It also goes hand in hand with other recommendations of the Flood Commission including the need for:

  • Councils to maintain up-to-date flood information, and
  • flood studies to be initiated in urban areas where they have not been done.

We expect that prior to adoption of the Proposed New Part into the Code, BCQ will take into account the recommendations of the Flood Commission. If the Proposed New Part is adopted without amendment, the impacts will  be felt across the industry.

We will keep you updated on developments.

Focus covers legal and technical issues in a general way. It is not designed to express opinions on specific cases. Focus is intended for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice. Further advice should be obtained before taking action on any issue dealt with in this publication.

 

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