Moree Plains Shire Council to clean up burnt-out houses and recover costs from owners

Just one of the many burnt-out houses in Moree, which will soon be cleaned up.
Just one of the many burnt-out houses in Moree, which will soon be cleaned up.

Owners of burnt-out houses in the Moree Plains Shire have been put on notice - if they don't clean up their land after their house has burnt down, council will be coming after them to recover the costs.

At Thursday's ordinary council meeting, councillors resolved to step up and take action to clear the high number of dilapidated buildings tainting the streets of the shire.

The matter was brought to council's committee meeting on Thursday, November 28 as a late report by councillor John Tramby, following concerns from a number of residents living near burnt-out houses which are believed to contain asbestos.

It's an issue that Cr Tramby has been pursuing for the past 22 years.

"This is what you're on council for," he said.

"There's an absolute health risk to our residents [as many of the burnt-out dwellings contain asbestos], not just those in the immediate vicinity. There's a problem with land values - people living beside them have great difficulty trying to sell their homes.

"It's dangerous for young children who walk around at night and utilise these burnt-out shells as meeting points; they're putting their lives at risk.

"It's a blight on our town and our district. It's seeable by travellers and it has to finish."

During the committee meeting, councillors heard that at last count there were a total of 38 burnt-out houses in Moree alone - 30 of which are privately-owned, while eight belong to government organisations.

However Cr Tramby estimates this figure could be higher across the shire.

"It's nearly a daily check," he said.

"I'd say the figure now could be close to 50 in the shire."

When the report was brought to that afternoon's council meeting, councillors resolved a number of recommendations which will see these dwellings cleaned up as soon as possible.

Among the resolutions, council acknowledges that the responsibility for burnt-out dwellings lies with the owner of the dwelling and as such, any cost incurred by council to clear the land will be recovered.

Over the coming weeks, council will assess each burnt-out dwelling, and each additional house within 14 days of it being burned, to determine whether temporary fencing and PVA gluing is required to minimise safety risks.

"We'll test all of them for possession of asbestos, then request the owner to safety fence the block to keep people out, spray and seal any loose asbestos material on site. If they are unwilling to carry that out, council will take that on and do it and then insist that they reimburse us," Cr Tramby said.

Council will commence immediate action against private owners within 14 days of being advised of a fire that renders a dwelling uninhabitable and will immediately begin legal proceedings against the private owners of burnt-out dwellings, while ensuring that social housing providers attend to buildings within their control.

Council will also go out to tender for the immediate removal of all burnt-out dwellings within Moree, with funds to be sought from the Waste Fund and any cost recovered be returned to that fund.

In the meantime, representation will be made to state and federal governments to provide a significant subsidy to remove existing and future burnt-out dwellings, ensure insurance products are required to pay for removal only and ensure public housing owners deal with burnt-out buildings promptly.

"Initially just to do inspections, putting up fences, re-spraying - that's in the hundreds of thousands of dollars," Cr Tramby said of the costs involved.

"If you include the demolition of all the buildings, the figure is somewhere between $1 million and $1.4 million which is beyond council's capacity. So we'll be seeking reimbursement.

"We'll take all actions possible to recover funds from the owners through legal means."

After years of perseverance, Cr Tramby was thrilled that council had finally taken steps to resolve this issue and said the decision was "the best day of my council career".

"This is a brilliant outcome," he said.

"It's the best result I've had since I've been on council.

"Now I've finally got the ball rolling I will not cease until we have a clean landscape in this shire.

"Owners are now on notice. We will pursue them to the full letter of the law."

Cr Tramby is hopeful that all of the current burnt-out houses can be removed over the next 18 months.