Relocation Case Study


In the early hours of 28 February 2022, unprecedented flooding occurred across South-East Queensland, Northern NSW, and parts of Western Sydney due to extreme rainfall. Lismore, a regional city in NSW situated at the convergence of the Wilson’s River and Leycester Creek, was particularly devastated. Despite predictions of flooding, the scale and rapid rise of the waters caught many residents off guard, with floodwaters reaching 14.4 metres in some places, surpassing previous flood peaks by more than 2 meters. Approximately 31,000 people, out of a population of around 45,000 were affected. Adding to the catastrophe, a second major flood impacted the Lismore area on 30 March 2022, exacerbating the damage. The local First Nations community, the Widjabul people of the Bundjalung nation, was particularly badly impacted by the floods. However, their media organisation, the Koori Mail, provided and continues to provide a range of practical support and leadership for both First Nations people and the wider northern rivers community.

The disaster highlighted inadequacies and malfunctions in rainfall and water monitoring systems, warning systems and institutional responses, which meant that the warning systems failed, leaving little time for evacuation or preventive measures. Lives were lost, people were forced onto their roofs and homes, businesses and infrastructure were destroyed.

Government assistance continues to be rolled out. Priority for buy-backs, house raising and retrofitting is based on the expected flood height and velocity in the most likely scenarios. However, the criteria for these measures rely on historical flood data rather than up-to-date information from 2022, causing uncertainty within the community. Some residents have received offers, while their neighbours have not, leading to confusion about the parameters being used. Initially, residents were informed that about 6,000 homes would be targeted under the scheme, but only 1,500 homes are now included. The process has been slow and disruptive. Approximately 1,100 homes are receiving offers in the first round, with 632 buyback offers made as of October 25, 2023. The shortage of available, affordable housing in the Northern Rivers exacerbates the challenges, making it extremely difficult for people to afford to re-establish their lives in the same area, even if a buy-back offer is made.

A recently announced agreement for 400 new homes located well above the Probable Maximum Flood (PMF) in Lismore aims to help alleviate the region’s housing crisis. Of the 400 home sites “a number of the serviced lots will be made suitable for the relocation of existing homes from flood affected areas.” The agreement serves as an example of a cooperative approach to major new developments. Southern Cross University in Lismore has provided the 72ha site for this initiative. The New South Wales (NSW) Government will develop the site, including infrastructure provision, while the NSW Reconstruction Authority has allocated $15 million to facilitate the purchase of homes through the Resilient Homes Program before they are available on the open market. The houses are anticipated to be available for sale from 2026.