IS IT just the ‘nanny state’ mentality gone mad or it is reasonable for the shire to ban backyard burn-offs on safety or environmental grounds? Whatever your view, there’s a good chance that most people in the community didn’t even know that the shire was planning to introduce a local law stopping people having backyard bonfires, even on the larger urban fringe properties. Yes, the council did provide the community with an opportunity to comment on the changes to its community regulations in a ‘Review of General Local Law No.1 and No.2’. However while 18 general submissions were received, including six specifically against the burn-off proposal from local CFA brigades, it’s unlikely anyone knew the council was going to bring in the new regulations at its council meeting on Wednesday, April 16. Even Cr Bob Newton, who was on leave at the time, didn’t know. He’s against the idea of stopping people cleaning up their properties, and especially on one acre residential blocks, and bigger, being allowed to dispose of dried leaves, branches etc with the occasional burn-off. “Who’s it going to hurt? You’re not allowed to do it in the fire danger period anyway so there’s no safety issue.” Cr Newton went so far as to suggest the council “slipped it through” while he was away, knowing of his opposition. The shire’s regulatory services manager, Matthew Patterson, agreed that you would previously have been able to burn a pile of autumn leaves in the backyard but not now. Even the old 44-gallon incinerator was still allowed in South Gippsland Shire backyards until April 16. He said the shire was responding to complaints in agreeing to place restrictions on “open air burning”. How many complaints? A lot, they say. Mr Patterson said it was a health issue for some people while the shire also received complaints about nuisance burn-offs in the residential area, affecting the neighbours’ activities including fouling the washing. But all’s not lost. In fact, you can still have a burn-off in your backyard but it will cost $55 for the privilege, which is the cost for the shire of processing a permit. Cr Newton and the CFA fears it will lead to further green waste dumping and also discourage people from clearing up their blocks, especially on the edge of town. You can still have a burn-off on Farming land but restrictions now apply to land zoned Residential, Township, Low Density Residential, Commercial and Mixed Use. Mr Patterson said it was an anomaly that South Gippsland Shire was the only one in Gippsland that didn’t have a Local Law restricting open air burning in residential areas. The restrictions do not apply to barbecues while being used for the purpose of cooking, and manufactured fireplaces being used for outdoor heating. Cr Newton said he planned to ask for an exemption for rural-residential land on the edges of town but wasn’t sure of his chances if the new Local Law had been gazetted since the last meeting. The main issue for the CFA is that they hope they aren’t contacted by people with a complaint about a burn-off and have insisted that the shire initiate a publicity campaign to advise people that the shire is the referral agency. Council has admitted that it will have trouble enforcing the new law outside office hours.