Sampson Flat bushfires: Fire victims helped to navigate planning ‘maze’

Original article ran in In Daily: Adelaide Independent News on 9 June 2015 by Bension Siebert

A team of architects and planners is working pro bono to help victims of the Sampson Flat bushfires rebuild their homes and sheds without falling foul of labyrinthine planning regulations.

Architect Emilis Prelgauskas is leading a volunteer team to help smooth the road to recovery for bushfire victims. Source Adelaide Independent News
Architect Emilis Prelgauskas is leading a volunteer team to help smooth the road to recovery for bushfire victims. Source Adelaide Independent News

Veteran architect Emilis Prelgauskas is leading the team, which seeks to minimise the antagonism that can often develop between victims of a natural disaster and planning system enforcers.

“People get very perplexed and very disoriented,” Prelgauskas told InDaily.

“Inside the approvals processes, we use words which mean something completely different from what they mean in normal, day-to-day life.”

The Murray Bridge-based architect spent the first several weeks of the fire away from his architecture practice, coordinating the retrieval of animals from the fire zone.

Since then he has led the Sampson Flat rebuilding team, which advises those who have lost buildings on how to navigate planning regulations.

Explaining how planning language can confuse property owners, Prelgauskas said that when something was described as “compliant”, this actually meant it was “just barely meeting the rules”. Conversely, when something was said to be non-compliant, that didn’t necessarily mean it couldn’t be done.

“They’re saying: ‘actually, when we look at it in detail, it may be a better solution, but it’s not the normal way in which the process (works).’

“You end up with some form of antagonism between the people trying to help and the people who would like some help, but feel that they’re being (obstructed).

“It (the rebuilding team is) is not here to intrude; we’re not here to tell you what to do; we’re certainly not here to tell you what timeframe to work under.

“But we’re here because we understand you’re going to need some help with this process.”

More than 100 sheds and 27 homes were destroyed in the January bushfire.

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