In 2011 a flood disaster in Lockyer Valley in the Australian state of Queensland led to loss of life and catastrophic damage. The rural town of Grantham was hit particularly hard. The state government initiated an unprecedented recovery and resettlement plan for the development of new homes for impacted residents. Planners successfully reduced flood risk in the “new” Grantham, located in the vicinity of the existing town. How did the resettlement plan change the lives of residents? Complementing the article on Grantham in issue 108 of Topos, we spoke in further detail with Kate Isles, a planner who was involved in the planning process and implementation for the recovery of Grantham with the Queensland Reconstruction Authority from its very beginning after the 2011 floods.
Topos: What is the current status of the “new” Grantham, how many houses have been built, how many people live there?
Kate Isles: “New” Grantham or upper Grantham is now well established following the now historic land ballot of Saturday, 6th August 2011. Around 70 homes have now been built or relocated there.
Topos: Is Grantham considered a successful case of resettlement planning?
KI: I suspect the responses to this will differ when you ask different people. In my view yes. Resettlement in its simplest terms is the process of moving people to a different place to live, because they are no longer able to stay in the area where they use to live. So in this regard the answer should be yes. It was a unprecedented event and therefore no manual existed for a process to follow. There will be many sides to the Grantham story. In a circumstance like this you couldn’t possibly expect complete success. The best you can hope for is that the vast majority saw the engagement, efforts and delivery as one that was progressed with the best of intentions.
Topos: Can New Grantham, and particularly the planning process, serve as a guiding image or model for other communities that need to adapt to (flood) risk/disaster?
KI: Again, my view is yes. The underlying principles are universal. Set a vision and work back from this vision. For Grantham this was about setting the vision to have some affected residents in their homes by Christmas of the same year. From there we had to step back through all the events that needed to occur from house connections (plumbing), civil engineering and surveying to road closures, and importantly, a regulatory environment that would enable this to occur. Ordinarily this whole process would have taken 2 years. We reduced this down to 10 months which included 3 months of community consultation. The key to the success was the collaboration across all levels of government and the private sector to believe in and commit to the vision. The land use planning process for declaring Reconstruction Areas is similar to the process identified for declaring Priority Development Areas under the Economic Development Act.
Topos: How did the “growth option” (i.e. offering properties to prospective buyers who weren’t residents before the flood) influence the development of Grantham? It seems this was key.
KI: I agree with you regarding the growth option and that opening the development up to others is an important factor both going forward and continuing to strengthen the existing and future community. It is not a dissimilar principle to the need for “salt and peppering” in housing developments, i.e. don’t only have one building of social housing – salt and pepper, mix where you can. It builds better communities.
Topos: Did the planning for “new” Grantham also benefit those who remained in the “old” Grantham?
KI: Reflecting on this, within the Grantham community you had two groups of directly affected residents. 22 people lost their lives in the most horrific of circumstances. There are those from “lower” Grantham and those who established upper Grantham. The latter very much had survivor’s guilt. Therefore, in my view, it was important that the two benefitted from the process. That lessons are learned, new processes embedded, to ensure that the events are never repeated. I genuinely believe this occurred and that Queensland and Queenslanders are far better prepared, are better aware and have a greater understanding of the natural hazards that we may face.
Topos: Looking back, how do you view your contribution to the Grantham resettlement planning?
KI: I reflect very fondly on my time and involvement in this process. It was exhausting, yet rewarding. The least I could do as a professional was play my role in making the survivors’ lives the best they can be and to honour those that lost theirs.
Kate Isles, MPIA, is Director of INFINITUM PARTNERS, a planning firm in Albion, Queensland, Australia. She was Director Land Use Planning at the Queensland Reconstruction Authority (QRA, 2011-2013) and also a Board Member of the QRA (2015-2018).