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Managing residential development in coastal areas

HIA is seeking a consistent national approach by Federal, State and local government to address Sea Level Rise in planning & building assessments to minimise the effect on the housing industry.

HIA's Position Statement

  1. All levels of Government have a responsibility to monitor, manage and mitigate the future impacts of sea level rise.
  2. All levels of Government should ensure their response to sea level rise use risk based approach to ensure that the impact on housing and home owners is commensurate with the threat.
  3. Governments should consider taking reasonable steps to plan for and mitigate the effects of sea level rise on existing urban areas by implementing public infrastructure works to protect potentially affected land
  4. The Australian Government should:
    • promote a coordinated and transparent whole of government approach to sea level rise with state based implementation to address ad hoc approaches being implemented.
    • ensure consistent scientific information on any predicted or actual impact of sea level rise is available and directed to state and local governments for adoption in the relevant planning instruments and
    • continue to undertake coastal vulnerability mapping based on Australian research including carrying out ongoing monitoring and data collection of actual changes in Australia’s coastline.
  5. State and local governments should only implement sea level rise considerations into planning decisions based on an agreed single source of data for national coastal hazard mapping.
  6. When assessing the determining an application for residential development local governments should provide an applicant/land owner with the opportunity to take responsibility for future risks associated with sea level rise on that development. Such an approach would mitigate the need for authorities to refuse or delay an application on the grounds of sea level rise alone.
  7. Any agreement by an applicant/land owner to take on responsibility for risk associated with sea level rise should be binding to the land.
  8. Any loss of developable land as a result of planning decisions made on the grounds of sea level rise should be a trigger for state/local governments to increase the urban footprint elsewhere to provide an offset.

Note: This position statement neither supports nor contests the existence of rising sea levels caused by climate change, global warming or any other phenomena, of natural or human causation.


  • Some scientists are predicting that Australia will be seriously affected by changes in climatic conditions into the future.
  • The impact of man-made influences on climate change will continue to be researched and debated by advocates and sceptics.
  • Authorities have been developing and implementing policy and regulation based on a range of measures and evidence, which has been a source of confusion and cost to the housing and residential development industry.
  • HIA has called for a consistent approach to sea level rise adaptation by all authorities.
  • HIA has also called for authorities to be flexible and allow for individuals to acknowledge the predicted risk on existing residential land yet proceed with a planned development application to avoid a refusal on the grounds of sea level rise alone.
  • HIA has previously called for the Federal Government to provide benchmarks on sea level rise. Rather than providing definitive advice or legislated responses, the response to date has involved provision of information on the potential impact of sea level rise and the likely progress into the future.
  • This has included publishing of maps to show predicted low, medium, and high sea level rise scenarios. A separate report provides an assessment of the effects of sea level rise on existing and coastal communities and their assets. Both are predicated on a sea level rise of around 1.1 metres by 2100.
  • In the absence of a defined national response to sea level rise, state and local governments are applying individual planning policy approaches to the development industry with a view to eliminating any possible litigation due to property damage or losses into the future.
  • These responses have the potential to adversely impact new housing and residential development through:
    • increased cost of construction
    • changed construction methods
    • change in current housing designs and products
    • greater setbacks from foreshore areas
    • increased costs associated with consultant studies
    • increased refusals of development applications and
    • loss of developable land as there is an increase in the amount of land zoned vulnerable to coastal hazards.
  • Any increased burden on the residential development industry through a myriad of responses to climate change, and sea level rise benchmarks will have a long term effect on residential subdivisions, housing design and the approval process.
  • While the debate on climate change has extremely broad social, economic and policy implications, the impact of sea level rise policy and regulation on land use planning and building regulations, is more direct and blunt.
  • At its most extreme, it is possible that development will be prohibited, or at best highly regulated in designated sea level rise affected areas.

Policy endorsed by HIA National Policy Congress: May 2010; Re-endorsed with amdts 2016 (title change) & 2021.

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