- Opinion Piece -

Greater Shepparton – Build Back Better By Design

Our city has just experienced a 1 in 100-year flood with thousands in our community displaced and concerned for their loved ones, homes, and uncertain about what happens next. Before the flood waters had even receded, there are media articles and coverage speculating on our willingness and ability to understand and respond to the challenges of living on a flood plain.  (The Age, 18 October 2022, Out-of-date flood maps mean homes built on flood plains)

Shepparton has grown and thrived on a flood plain. Its where we continue to produce almost half of Victoria’s fruit, we are Australia’s second largest dairy production region. We are home to almost a fifth of regional Victoria’s manufacturing, a quarter of Victoria’s heavy freight vehicles and one of Australia’s most diverse and culturally rich communities.

This doesn’t happen by accident – its built from the ground up with our local Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority and Greater Shepparton City Council ensuring current, locally-informed flood mapping, land use planning, design and engineering guides development.

Our Council, CMA and agencies have also prioritised making this data available to our community through a local Community Flood Intelligence Portal for free and at the individual property level (the biggest obstacle to access was digital connectivity).

The floods have thoroughly tested these capabilities and have provided many lessons including how we can build and rebuild better, stronger and more resilient to a changing future. But there are also many lessons of success, of things that have worked well, and examples where we have avoided the need for millions of dollars of government funding for clean-up and rebuilding.

We have hundreds of houses and households in new residential estates that have not been inundated. Many of these developments including the Boulevard and Sevens Creek estates sit beside the Goulburn River, Victoria’s largest river, and its tributaries. They are designed to have 1 in 100-year floods (similar to what we have seen the past week) flowing through the streets with houses sitting high and dry – and this week residents have witnessed this smart design in action and taken immense reassurance from the accuracy of the CMA’s property maps.

No-one can predict what events might unfold into the future. What we do know is the processes and diligence of our local council and CMA means they will gather more data from this most recent event, adjust their setting and models, and continuously improve the information and data available for free to our community to inform our future growth and success.

Future development on flood plains is possible, Shepparton is not ‘a Lismore in the waiting’ and our Council and agencies are at the cutting-edge of urban planning and engineering design that is informed by our local landscape.

As we work our way through this week’s heartbreaking and traumatic impact for business, community and residents, let’s see how we can build and retrofit these now proven approaches into our region’s recovery to improve the outcomes, housing and land use for all residents of Shepparton and for communities across our nation.

Where we do need help is to progress major pieces of infrastructure that are key to the operation of our city – and thanks to our location and industry are also key to the operation of Australia’s national freight network. A second river crossing is vitally important. We have campaigned for years around the importance of the Goulburn Valley bypass that will provide this alternate route – to keep the nation’s food, fibre and freight moving and keep our region’s business, economy and community safe and connected.

We also welcome genuine support and expertise to help our city continue its adaptation in how we design, build, rebuild and connect our city, our people and our economy. But with the rush to assist, let’s not lose sight of the proven capabilities of our local leaders, agencies and community.

The essence of good leadership is knowing when to listen, to learn and to support others to excel – and when to pick up a shovel and help. It’s something many of our local, federal and state leaders have shown this past week and we encourage broader interests to do the same.

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Lindy Nieuwenhuizen

Lindy Nieuwenhuizen