Defending Sydney from the hidden threat of solving the housing crisis

A new report from urban policy think tank Committee for Sydney calls for a major rethink of the way we plan new communities to reduce the growing threat of floods and extreme weather.

The $6 billion insured cost of the East Coast Floods was dwarfed by the uninsured impacts, estimated at $15 billion – and those numbers will only get bigger with the national cost of natural disasters projected to nearly double to $73 billion by 2060.

The Defending Sydney report has been developed by the Committee for Sydney with engineering consultant AECOM, multi-council program Resilient Sydney and general insurer IAG.

The report makes three key recommendations to integrate land use and hazard risk planning, better align funding and investment, and address the residual risk.

Sam Kernaghan, Resilience Director at the Committee for Sydney: “Sydney’s at a crossroads. We’re up against a housing crisis and a climate crisis – our success in solving housing is going to be judged on whether more or less people are at risk of natural disasters like flooding.

“Unless we learn to walk and chew gum at the same time, the result will be more and more development in areas with growing flood and climate risk”.

“People buying homes in these areas have no idea of the risk they’re taking on, nor the costs being created for communities and government.

“There’s no shortage of data – all the key players have it – but little is public, and even less is used to inform our land use planning.

“What we do know is that with each continued disaster, it becomes increasingly difficult for people to afford adequate disaster insurance.

“While flooding was our most recent challenge it may not be our next – we need to learn from New Zealand, the Netherlands and New York City, places that have been planning for extreme weather for a long time, and build the capacity in our communities to cope with whatever comes our way.”

Susan Templeman MP, Federal Member for Macquarie: “As someone who represents a community in Greater Sydney that has been the worst-hit by fire and flood in the past three years, I welcome the detailed work in this report.

“I began thinking seriously about disaster policy a decade ago, when my own home burnt down in the October 2013 Winmalee fires. We cannot assume ‘she’ll be right’, when we see the frequency, severity and breadth of disasters that we’ve already experienced, particularly when insurance is out of reach for so many people.

“We need to have the right planning approach for current and future housing and land use, and I hope this report triggers evolution of planning policy. The sooner challenging discussions happen that involve communities, the sooner good decisions can be made so people have a better prospect of long-term security.”

Andrew Dyer, IAG Manager Land Planning Hazzards and Regulatory: “We’ve seen first-hand the devastation caused by floods, bushfires and extreme weather in across Sydney and greater NSW through our NRMA Insurance, CGU and WFI insurance brands.

“We believe these recommendations are a good step towards slowing the unchecked growth in natural disaster risk and improving the resilience of our communities.”

Scott Ryan, Chief Safety, Asset and Operating Officer at Endeavour Energy: “As the electricity network that powers the lives of 2.7 million people living and working in some of NSW’s fastest growing regions, our customers and communities are regularly affected by the impacts of climate change, including some of the worst floods and bushfires in Australia in recent years.

“We’re pleased to partner with the Committee for Sydney in calling for ongoing collaboration and coordination between government, the community and infrastructure providers to future proof the resilience of all lifeline infrastructure. We’re also playing our part by acting on our customers’ feedback and making targeted investments to improve resilience of our electricity supply.”

James Rosenwax, Regional MD for NSW and ACT at AECOM: “This report emphasises the unprecedented complexity now involved in planning and risk management for Sydney in the face of increased climate risk.

“As an industry, we all have a part to play in the way we develop our urban centres and safeguard our communities.

Read the full Defending Sydney report, or a one page explainer.

Published on Oct 17th 2023