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NRRC update with Kieron Hendicott: buybacks, timelines and land release

The Lismore App

Simon Mumford

24 January 2023, 8:11 PM

NRRC update with Kieron Hendicott: buybacks, timelines and land release

The Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation (NRRC) has received some criticism of late for their lack of communication and detail about their work as we head into the 12-month anniversary of the February 28 2022 natural disaster.

With CEO David Witherdin away, the Lismore App spoke to Kieron Hendicott, Executive Director of the NRRC to get the latest news.

The first part of the $700 million Resilient Homes Program (announced on October 28 2022) was engaging with the community about how the program was going to roll out.

"Since early November, we've had about 40 community and stakeholder events across the region, across all seven local government areas and we've had about 1400 attendees which is really, really good."

"We've had a strong interest in the program, as expected, we've had more than 6,500 registrations for the homes program and we're starting to work through those registrations now."

"The next stage for those that have registered is an outreach program and we've started that outreach program in December by prioritising homeowners that are in the most high-risk areas. We have identified about 130 of those that are eligible for a voluntary house buyback."

What stage are discussions at with the 130 highest-risk owners?

"We've started discussions with some of them and we are completing valuation inspections on about 15 properties of that mix. It's a detailed engagement process."

"The first engagement is the introduction to the Case Managers and the completion of a customer information form. Once that happens, we start working through the timing of the valuation inspections which will produce a valuation report."

"Each property will have two independent valuer reports and those reports will be peer-reviewed."

"That gets reviewed by the Valuer General and then ultimately form the basis of a letter of offer for the homeowner."

"I think by the end of March, we'll have contacted and commenced the buyback process for around 350 properties as part of the process. A large number of those we will have had letters of offers out by around that time. It's hard to pin down the exact number because we're moving at the pace, to some degree, of the individual homeowners but it will be a significant proportion of that 350."

At this stage, Mr Hendicott did not have an indicative price or average price of a house buyback in a particular suburb.

"When the valuation reports start to come together we'll get a sense for what that average is. One thing to be conscious of is we're rolling the program out in seven local government areas so the values will vary across the LGAs."

Most of the first 15 properties completing the first valuations are in the Lismore LGA because that is where the highest risk to life is.

The first 130 house buyback properties are being viewed as a sort of pilot program that essentially tests the case management process so that the NRRC can fine-tune its processes through community feedback from those involved so they can improve the speed and quality of future valuations.

"We'll be in a better position to understand how long it takes for each one and how that will roll out across the entire program," Mr Hendicott said.

"We're mobilising a really significant and complex program here and we're working at the pace of some of the individual homeowners. We're really conscious about making sure we fine-tune the process with this group before we scale it up more rapidly."

"We are conscious that the March floods have taken an enormous physical and emotional toll on the community and the ones that we're dealing with at the moment in the highest risk places are, by virtue, largely some of the most impacted and working through that is a sensitive process."

"We're not rushing them, I guess is the point that I'm trying to make. We're not rushing them through the process."

What is the likelihood of someone saying no to a voluntary house buyback and being the only house in a high-risk street?

"Some of these 130 homes are quite significantly impacted and some are destroyed while others have gone through the Flood Property Assessment Program (FPAP) and have already been recommended for demolition.

"If a homeowner accepts the buyback offer, that home becomes the property of the NSW Government. As we work through the program, the recommendation of the Flood Inquiry was clear that we should be transitioning those areas to make sure that there can be no future residential use on those properties."

"Probably the most important thing to note is this is not a one-shot opportunity. People will be offered the buyback and if their neighbours all move out of the street and they are the last one standing, it's not going to rule them out of coming back in and taking another look at it while the program is still alive."

"These are significant decisions for people to make and we're not going to rush them through this process. We're going to work through this with the community and tackle it as it comes."

Why doesn't the NRRC release a map of the high-risk 'red zones', then orange and green zones so people understand the process better?

"It is quite a complex assessment process which is why we're taking it on an individual case-by-case basis."

"You know the flood maps that show flood depth is just one element of the assessment process we look at. We look at flood velocity, we look at the availability of evacuation routes, we look at the pace of the flood and the flood rising or the flood depth rising. We look at the topology of the house so whether it's a brick home, whether it's raised, you know, where it currently is in terms of height off the ground, those types of things to examine the actual feasibility of being able to raise it if it's structurally okay to do so. We also look at the individual circumstances of the homeowner as well and their suitability for the particular outcome."

"For example, homeowners that might have significant mobility impairments, it might not be an appropriate outcome to raise their house three metres off the ground if they're going to struggle to get up and down the stairs, that type of thing, which is why this is an individualised process. This is why we've set up the case management approach, so the homeowners can have a one-on-one relationship with that case manager. It's the same case manager through the whole process and we can walk them through that."

What is the latest on the Resilient Lands Program?

"We've had over 300 expressions of interest across all seven local government areas in the Northern Rivers, which is very, very positive. It is worth noting as well, the expressions of interest for that program close on the 1st of February.

"So, we're assessing the applications that we received and that assessment considers a whole range of dimensions. It considers things like the hazard risk, it considers things like the environmental implications and the environmental constraints on the site. It will examine the supporting infrastructure needs as well. It will look at the potential for the type and diversity of housing that potential development or land could maintain. It'll look at things like the potential for social and affordable housing as well, and through that process, there will be a range of sites that are more suitable than others and more suitable than others from a temporary perspective, from a time-based perspective."

"The objective of that program overall is to identify a pipeline of supply in the region and accelerate that supply. So, there will be some that will require more work to deliver the enabling infrastructure. For example, work through some of the planning approvals, but there'll be others that you know, we have the ability to accelerate more. The key thing there is a pipeline, I guess, over the short, medium and long term."

"We're looking to have the first shortlist identified by March."

"There's an initial assessment process that I talked about that considers some of those more kinds of technical planning-related matters and there's a short list around what will be generated as a result of that process."

"Then we'll be going into more detailed investigations around some of those particular sites. So, for example, we've had the 300 applications, we'll land on a smaller short list of sites that are more readily able to be accelerated and we'll be starting to do some more of the detailed investigations that we need to make that happen, from that shortlist period onwards."

"It's difficult to be definitive for a timeline but we're pretty confident there will be some in there that are more able to rapidly accelerate than some of the others but it really does depend on what we're landing on and we're not quite there yet but we're close."

When will people who accept a voluntary buyback know what type of land and house they can afford in a new development?

"As we work through the detailed assessment process, and you know we understand when and how they (the new developments) can come online, which is before construction actually starts, at that time we'll be able to have a better sense of what kind of development type that might be. The type of housing that particular land might be able to support, the kind of price points around that and what support can be provided to help homeowners re-enter the market."

"The diversity of housing is a really important element of that process and a really important element not just in Lismore but in the Northern Rivers more generally.

The NRRC has been criticised for its lack of communication recently, will you change your communication in 2023?

"We have a strong relationship with the local community and we're listening. We're listening to their concerns and ultimately we want to hear from as many people as possible. Since early November, as I said, we've had some 40 communities and stakeholder engagement events and more than 1400 people went to those. That said, we've obviously heard from the local member and we're aware of the issues the community has raised and we're in the process of updating our website including frequently asked questions."

"We'll be updating our social media presence as well. We'll be looking to provide fortnightly updates and a dashboard on the progress of the Resilient Homes Program as well and we're looking to establish an ongoing presence in the Lismore CBD and other centres across the region for the community to drop in and find out some more information about our work program."

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