A LANDMARK legal decision that climate change factors are grounds to block coastal development has sparked calls for an overhaul of planning laws.
Plans to build six seaside homes on land at Toora, in Gippsland, were overturned by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, in part because of projections that climate change would make the land unsuitable for housing.
VCAT deputy president Helen Gibson and member Ian Potts ruled that development on the three to four-hectare lots should not be allowed.
"We consider that increases in the severity of storm events coupled with rising sea levels create a reasonably foreseeable risk of inundation of the subject land and the proposed dwellings, which is unacceptable," the ruling said.
The decision was also based on the belief that the residential development was not suitable for the area's farming zone or coastal environment.
The South Gippsland Shire's original decision to grant permits for the development was challenged in VCAT by the Gippsland Coastal Board.
According to a recent Gippsland Coastal Board report, the region's coast would erode and retreat by up to 79 metres with the sea level rises predicted by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Officials called for clarity on how climate change projections should be factored into planning guidelines.
South Gippsland Shire chief executive Paul Bawden said the ruling showed that councils and developers needed a clear picture of what was acceptable in low-lying areas.
"I think the State Government needs to respond with a better policy framework," he said. "We're dealing with a worldwide phenomenon in terms of global warming, and Arctic ice melting is decades ahead of where people thought global warming would be even 18 months ago."
Gippsland Coastal Board chairman Duncan Malcolm said Victorian and Australian planning schemes were yet to face up to the changes predicted along the coast.
"We haven't, for instance, got planning tools saying, 'This area might not be all right to build on and reside on for the next 50 years'," he said.
A spokeswoman for Planning Minister Justin Madden said the Government was preparing its climate change policy and was working with councils to ensure planning policy and decision-making in coastal areas was informed by the latest evidence.
Town planner Gary Chisholm, of Beveridge Williams, who represented three property owners in the VCAT hearing, said the ruling highlighted the need for clarity.
"It's certainly now brought sea level rise and global warming in as an issue which you must reasonably consider. Probably the difficulty is going to be where you go for that particular advice," Mr Chisholm said.
He said his clients had advice on flooding from the West Gippsland catchment management authority, which included building the floor level higher than usual to account for global warming and potential storm surges.
Dairy farmer Ian Dubignon, who wanted to develop and sell a section of his property to keep his farm viable, said authorities should set guidelines for development rather than banning it.
Wellington Shire Council recently backed down on a proposal to ban development in the Honeysuckles hamlet on Ninety Mile Beach. It decided instead to consider new regulations for homes in low coastal areas.