By Kirra Grimes

BASS Coast Shire Council has been flooded with phone calls from metropolitan Melburnians eager to take advantage of changes to COVID-19 restrictions that allow them to travel to regional areas to reduce the risk of bushfires at their holiday properties.

Council’s CEO Ali Wastie confirmed the customer service team had received more than 2500 enquiries within just a few days of the state government’s announcement earlier this week that regional property owners residing in metropolitan Melbourne would be able travel to regional areas to undertake “fire preparedness activities,” starting from midnight on Wednesday, October 21.

Apparently blindsided by the state government’s October 19 announcement, Bass Coast Shire Council was still working on setting up its application process for the travel exemption permits and determining how they would be assessed when contacted for comment on Wednesday afternoon.
An application form became available on council’s website on Thursday afternoon.

With no charge for the permits, council was anticipating a high volume of applications, but Ms Wastie said permits would only be issued to properties partially or wholly situated in a bushfire prone area, Bushfire Management Overlay or Land Subject to Inundation Overlay, in line with guidance provided by Local Government Victoria.

“These areas have been determined using scientific information and data, taking into account factors such as weather, topography and vegetation,” Ms Wastie said.

“Bushfire hazard data is developed by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and verified in collaboration with CFA and Council,” she said.

Ms Wastie asked people to be patient as council worked its way through the applications, which could take up to five business days to complete.

A South Gippsland Shire Council spokesperson told the Sentinel-Times on Monday that despite the state government’s announcement, Melburnians would not be able to request approval to visit their South Gippsland properties for fire preparation – they would only be permitted to travel for this reason if council officers identified that their property presented a threat to life or property from bushfire, and issued a Fire Prevention Notice allowing “adequate time” for works to be completed.

An application form for ‘Property Preparation Permits’ however became available on their website later that day.