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Researchers say we can not continue rebuilding in “at risk” areas in the aftermath of out-of-control bushfires once again devastating parts of Australia, this time in the west.

“Sea-change” or “tree-change” settlements “scattered” along coastlines or into bushland are often more vulnerable to extreme weather events, involve more energy intensive lifestyles, and can stretch emergency services during crises.

In a paper released today in Nature Urban Sustainability, the researchers have argued their case.

They say zoning must change in order to avoid future development in at-risk areas, and community models that can serve as blueprints for our transition to climate-resilient cities and towns should be the focus of planning and rebuilding.

One of the paper’s authors was Barbara Norman, director of Urban and Regional Futures at the University of Canberra.

“With the increasing potential for extreme events in the future, it’s adding a very strong argument to again be revisiting our planning,” said Professor Norman, who lost a family home in Mallacoota in the 2019-20 bushfires.

During the pandemic, the Bushfire recovery coupled with migration to regional areas means that there is a significant opportunity to put in place design principles now for our communities to be future-proof, Professor Norman said.

“Business as usual will not work … ignoring this issue is not helping anyone,” she said.

“[We can take] this opportunity to build world-class, environmentally sensitive developments.”

In the long run, Professor Norman said, allowing housing to spread into areas at risk of extreme weather events will do people more harm than good.

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Not only does building houses in risky areas expose individuals to danger, but insurance companies will either continue to raise premiums or refuse to insure properties at all.

“The really tough question of resettlement will be the next big issue, both globally and locally,” Professor Norman said.

“Ignoring it and not having a discussion about this tough question would not be helping those communities.

“Leading people with fear is an awful thing to do, but sitting down and leading people in a constructive way is a very positive thing to do.”

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