Important Changes to Bushfire Exemptions 

Practitioners will be aware of exemptions contained at Clause 52.12 (Bushfire Protection Exemptions) of the Victorian Planning Provisions. Those exemptions supersede any need for a planning permit to remove, destroy or lop vegetation, in specific circumstances.  

Previously these exemptions applied to all Victorian land except the 21 metropolitan and outer-ring municipalities listed in Clause 52.12. 

Planning Scheme Amendment VC176, gazetted on 5 August 2020, is a state-wide amendment affecting all planning schemes. The Amendment altered Cause 52.12 to: 

  • Add a purpose to the provision –  

To facilitate the removal of vegetation in specified circumstances to support the protection of human life and property from bushfire. 

To facilitate the construction and protection of community fire refuges and private bushfire shelters. 

  • Align the application of the existing 10/30 and fence line vegetation exemptions with          bushfire prone areas designated under the Building Act 1993 across all Victorian Councils; 
  • Remove the schedules to the clause; 
  • Update the wording under the fence line exemption, specifically the 4 metre rule, to match 

that in Clause 52.17 Native Vegetation; 

  • Clarify that no permit is required to remove vegetation for the construction of a dwelling,  and alteration and extension to a dwelling, or the creation of its defendable space when approved under the Bushfire Management Overlay. Previously this clause (52.12-5) referred only to the construction of a dwelling and not alterations or extensions. 

These recent changes mean that the exemptions now apply to all Victorian land that is identified as a designated bushfire prone area under the Building Act 1993.  

The changes also provide clarity to issues which arose in the implementation of the previous exemptions, namely defendable space and the clearance of vegetation around fences.  

Previously the exemptions included vegetation for a combined maximum width of 4 metres either side of an existing fence on a boundary between properties in different ownership, where that fence had been constructed before 10 September 2009. This exemption has been clarified to: 

  • The fence must be located in an area that is designated as a bushfire prone area under the Building Act 1993. 
  • The fence must have been constructed before 10 September 2009. 
  • The clearing alongside both sides of the fence when combined must not exceed 4 metres in width, except where land has already been cleared 4 metres or more along one side of the fence, then up to 1 metre can be cleared along the other side of the fence.[our emphasis]

This last exemption provides a little more flexibility whereby the maximum clearance width along fence lines was previously a maximum of 4 metres. 

These changes do not allow widespread clearing of vegetation across the state under the guise of bushfire protection, but they do provide consistency in vegetation removal provisions for all areas which have been deemed as prone to bushfire. This allows landowners to reduce fuel loads in areas of bushfire risk, regardless of which municipality the land is in without the burden of the planning approval process.  

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