Moree Plains Shire Council cleans up burnt-out and dilapidated houses

CLEAN-UP: This property in Anne Street was demolished by a state government agency recently as a result of a council-issued order.
CLEAN-UP: This property in Anne Street was demolished by a state government agency recently as a result of a council-issued order.

Moree Plains Shire Council is taking a proactive approach in attempting to clean-up the high number of burnt-out houses in town.

Council’s environment and compliance manager Dane Graham said a series of five dilapidated houses are being demolished over the next couple of months, and by the end of the financial year up to eight properties could be cleaned up thanks to the help of other government agencies.

“We’re working with other housing agencies to clean up the issue,” Mr Graham said.

“We’re ticking them off but we’ve only got a certain amount of money we allocate yearly.”

The process of cleaning up burnt-out and dilapidated houses is a lengthy one, and one that often comes at great cost to the shire’s ratepayers.

Under section 121B of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 council has enforcement powers whereby it can order an owner to demolish a dilapidated building. 

“If you’re the owner of land, you’re responsible for that land,” Mr Graham said.

“However, council has a responsibility for making sure it’s not an amenities hazard, so council has the authority to enforce an order.

“We issue a notice of intention to issue an order if it’s dilapidated

“We wait 60 days to see if they’ve complied and reinspect the property.

“Following the inspection, if nothing is done, council orders them to do so. If they don’t comply, council takes on the responsibility of cleaning up that land.

“If we can get in contact with an owner and they refuse to pay, we will take it to the Land and Environment Court because it is a significant amount of money.

“The issue is that a lot of the houses are vacant.”

Council currently has $120,000 per annum allocated specifically for cleaning up properties which are deemed a hazard to the public.

That money generally only covers the demolition of two properties.

Mr Graham said the cost to demolish a house depends on a number of factors, but generally, if the property has asbestos it’s a minimum of $30,000 excluding the cost of waste.

“When you’ve got asbestos in houses, things start costing money,” he said.

“A majority of houses are built in that era between the 1940s and 1990s when asbestos was primarily used.

“The issue that we have is the price of land quite often doesn’t exceed the price of the clean-up.

“For example, in Jones Avenue, it cost approximately $80,000 to clean up a house recently due to asbestos.

“The price for a vacant block in Jones Avenue wouldn’t exceed $10,000.”

Mr Graham said council are working with other government agencies to speed up the process of clearing land and at this stage are hoping to have two per year ticked off, but are looking at ways to create savings that might allow them to tick off three or four.

“We shouldn’t be having to tick off two a year, we shouldn’t have to tick off any,” he said.

“It should be the owner’s responsbility to clean it up. Council doesn’t have the financial capacity to clean it up.

“The money we have annually isn’t representative of how much it would cost to do it as a whole lot.

“It’s not just Moree, it’s Boggabilla, Toomelah, Mungindi.”

For years, Moree has had an issue with burnt-out, dilapidated and abandoned houses and recently, there has been a spike in the number of suspicious fires being lit around town, which only adds to the problem.

“If people keep burning them down, we’re not going to keep cleaning them up as fast as we do,” Mr Graham said.

Since December last year, emergency services responded to almost 200 fires in or near the Moree township, many of which are believed to have been deliberately lit.

Council and Barwon Local Area Command are holding a town meeting at Moree Memorial Hall at 5.45pm tonight to discuss the LAC’s operations with the NSW Arson Squad to address the ongoing issue around suspicious fires being lit around town.