Calls to lift roadside vegetation red tape following St Patrick's Day fires falling on deaf ears, leaders fear

Hamstrung councils need more control over how roads and roadsides are managed, south-west leaders say.

Since the St Patrick’s Day fires, councillors at Moyne and Corangamite shires have been calling for cuts to roadside vegetation red tape to help reduce fuel loads, however, Corangamite Cr Neil Trotter said it appeared the issue was falling on deaf ears.

Cr Trotter said state Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio had failed to attend a planned meeting between Corangamite and Moyne representatives.

“We didn’t really get an apology. That is one concern, that it is not high on their agenda,” he said.

Cr Trotter said a lot of the rules around roadside vegetation were governed by strict government legislation.

“There are very strict and punitive regulations in place around roadside vegetation and how we deal with it and that stands for VicRoads as well as us,” he said.

“We’re hamstrung in what we can do and how we can react to it. I think there has to be a change of policy at state government level for this to be changed and for regional councils to have a far greater say in the way their roads are maintained.”

Cr Bev McArthur said the treatment of roadsides as “conservation zones” was one of the most significant issues facing regional Victoria.

Corangamite Shire deputy mayor Neil Trotter. Picture: Rob Gunstone

Corangamite Shire deputy mayor Neil Trotter. Picture: Rob Gunstone

“These fires were the classic example of how private property got destroyed and thousands of animals destroyed because the roadsides acted as a wick for these fires,” she said of St Patrick’s Day.

“We have to really up the ante on our advocacy to change not only state legislation but there’s a federal act that governs this as well. State and federal acts need to be changed if we’re to ensure roadsides become safe places.” Cr McArthur said some major roads were a “disaster waiting to happen” because of a lack of maintenance.

CFA veteran Hugh McFarlane has also spoken out against the current rules. A section commander at the Gazette/Hawkesdale fire on St Patrick’s Day, he said dangerous and fallen trees accounted for 90 per cent of issues on the night.

“If property owners were allowed to remove dead trees and do roadside grazing it would help reduce the problem and reduce the fuel loads,” he said.

Member for South West Coast Roma Britnell has also backed the calls.

Ms D’Ambrosio’s office has not responded to a request for comment.