Monday, March 17, 2008

Supreme Court Cites Climate Change As Reason To Ban Houses By The Beach

This story's a few days old now, but it didn't get much attention from the mainstream media. Strange, considering it sets a precedent for less homes being built near Australian beaches and along our coastlines :

In a portent of how climate change could transform town planning along the nation's coastlines, the South Australian Supreme Court has ruled that predicted sea level rises are a valid reason to reject beachfront housing developments.

The rejection of a subdivision on Yorke Peninsula, west of Adelaide, is likely to be repeated across the country as councils progressively write climate change provisions into their planning regulations.

The South Australian Supreme Court cited local sea level rises of 30cm over the next 50 years in ruling yesterday against Northcape Properties' plans for 80 holiday homes at Marion Bay, 150km west of Adelaide.

Judge Bruce Debelle endorsed earlier decisions by the state's Environment Court and Yorke Peninsula Council, which is one of the first coastal districts to incorporate stringent climate change clauses into its planning rules.

In ruling against Northcape's appeal, Justice Debelle confirmed the Environment Court's conclusion that the Marion Bay waterline would "recede inland by 35-40m" in the next 100 years.

Council chief executive Ricki Bruhn was delighted the court had vindicated his council's decision to add climate change clauses to its development plan in 2004.

"We're aware of rising sea levels and erosion in that area now," he said. "And being surrounded by water on three sides, we bear the brunt of any storm surges."

It's not just the courts (one court so far) that use climate change projections in deciding such matters. Whether you believe climate change will adversely impact Australia or not, most insurance companies now figure in the presumed effects of climate change in devising home insurance policies for the next decade or two.

That is, we will soon see a day when insurance companies will refuse to insure homes on beachfronts, or close to our coastlines, and make it harder to insure homes against what will be battled in courts as something like "climate change-related damage."

In a few years, if you own a home along a stretch of coastline predicted as likely to be hit by tidal surges, you will likely pay heavily in insurance premiums. If you can actually get insurance, that is.

The great Australian dream of owning a home by the beach is already almost out of reach for most Australians, with beach and coastal property prices on the east and west coasts mostly staying strong.

If Australian courts are now more likely to rule out beachfront and coastal developments because of climate change, a beach house for most Australians in the future will go from a perhaps reachable dream into the realm of pure fantasy.