A $200,000 study into the need for a multi-million dollar second access route for the bushfire-prone Millbrook Estate has drawn robust debate and left Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale councillors divided.
Six of the nine sitting councillors voted not to proceed with the feasibility study during Monday night’s council meeting and instead requested funding for bushfire mitigation activities.
The estate, surrounded by state forest, was built during the late 1980s and predated changes to the planning framework for bushfire risk.
With just one access point to the 62-lots bushfire-prone estate, the subdivision would require a second access route if assessed by today’s standards.
In June, the council agreed to undertake consultation on the matter – releasing a survey to determine the level of concern among residents and gauge their willingness to contribute $1000 each to the study.
Two-thirds of residents were not in favour of the study, but the validity of the survey was brought into question during council debate, with councillor Rob Coales criticising the decision to place the financial burden on the respondents.
“It would be remiss, irresponsible and dangerous of us not to consider the safety of our residents,” he said.
“I don’t want to be part of a council that puts financial gain above a ratepayer’s life.”
The local councillor and police officer was even more ardent in his argument, recalling shocking images he had seen during his time serving in the WA Police Force.
“Do you know what a burning body smells like? Because it’s awful,” he said.
“As far as I’m concerned, the survey has limited weight.
“The question was posed ‘Are you happy to spent your money on a feasibility study?’ – you get the answer you want.
“A feasibility study would help us to advocate for funding to support this.”
But other councillors highlighted that several sections of the shire were in the same position, including Byford, Karrakup, Jarrahdale and Serpentine, and that funding a study would set a financially unsustainable precedent.
In a statement to council, Millbrook Estate resident Gary Tomlinson said he feared an inevitable bushfire and those residents familiar with the decade-long discussions around fire risk believed the study to be “a waste of money”.
“Some residents believe they are self-sufficient and have expressed their objection to shire involvement in resolving this matter in any capacity, however, they do not seem to be cognisant of the evolving risks, nor truly aware of just how little they can actually do in the case of an out of control bushfire,” he said.
“We have one narrow, winding, aged and damaged bitumen road with steep gradients to exit on – all other exits lead into the state forest and mobile phone service is inadequate in the estate.
“The fact the subdivision was constructed prior to the legal requirement to supply fire escape routes does not exempt council from being responsible today.
“Our council should not want people to die on Medulla Road attempting to escape en masse, and should be doing everything in its power to ensure that residents have a safe passage.
“We should not have to beg for this right.”