Uncontrolled bushfire ‘essentially upon’ town of Lucindale in SA’s south-east, CFS says

The Country Fire Service (CFS) says a fast-moving grass fire has reached the local airstrip on the edge of Lucindale in South Australia’s south-east and is “essentially upon” the town.

The CFS says the Blackford fire is currently burning in severe heat and poses a threat to lives directly in its path.

An emergency warning was earlier issued for the township of Lucindale, as well as Avenue Range and Woolumbool, in the lower south-east.

Lucindale has a population of about 550 and power has been cut to more than 3,000 properties in and around the town.

The grass fire is burning towards Lucindale.(Supplied: Nick McBride)

CFS state duty commander Brenton Hastie said firefighting aircraft had been called in to help battle the blaze which is “incredibly difficult to control at the moment”.

He said earlier advice that people should leave the town has since been revised.

“As the fire is now imminently going to impact on Lucindale, that advice has now been changed to ‘shelter in place’,” he said.

“People in and around Lucindale are now under an emergency warning message which means it’s too late to leave and that people need to shelter in place.

A CFS water bomber flies over a property near Lucindale, in SA's south east, with thick black smoke in the sky from a bushfire.
The CFS deployed six water bombers to battle the grass fire burning towards Lucindale, in the south east.(Supplied: Hailey Brewster)

“This is now a very, very large fire which means it builds its own momentum and our focus is protecting people.

“I have no reports of losses at this stage but the fire would have burnt through a number of properties. We just don’t have any reported damage at this point.”

Mr Hastie said another four observation aircraft were supporting close to 40 fire trucks and crews on the ground.

A CFS truck driving along the road with a fire burning behind
Residents have been told to find shelter if they cannot leave.(Supplied: Nick McBride)

“It’s very hot, very windy, the wind change is coming in which is causing the wind to change direction and strengthen,” he said.

He said the fire “will move through Lucindale and continue in an easterly direction for the next couple of hours”.

“The terrain in that part of the world is broken up by areas that are difficult to access,” he said.

“The fire is still moving at a rapid rate of spread.”

Thick smoke fills the sky over a rural property near Lucindale, in SA's south east, as a bushfire burns nearby.
Smoke fills the air on a property near Lucindale as a fire burns out of control nearby.(Supplied: Hailey Brewster)

Lucindale resident Kim Corrigan, whose husband is fighting the fire, earlier said she could “see a heck of a lot of smoke” and was currently preparing to evacuate.

“I’m just going to get organised and I’ll just head away from it,” she said.

“This is the first time I’ve felt a little bit frightened of a fire.”

Total fire bans are currently in place across most of SA, with an extreme fire danger rating for the state’s lower south east.

Thick grey smoke takes up most of the sky as a bushfire burns out of control nearby. A water bomber appears small in the sky.
Water bombers are assisting ground crews.(Supplied: Hailey Brewster)

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China Has ‘Essentially Vanquished the Virus Without a Vaccine’

Friday on CNN’s “New Day,” network host Fareed Zakaria contemplated what a Biden administration may look like on the world stage, especially as Communist China appears to be on the rise.

Zakaria noted how initially China had struggled with COVID-19 but claimed China had since “vanquished the virus” without a vaccine.

“Just think about where we are now with China,” he said. “China is now clearly the second-most important country in the world. The United States and China are in a league of their own. China has come out of this pandemic in many ways stronger. Yes, its reputation got battered a bit because of its early handling — but it has essentially vanquished the virus without a vaccine. It also has vaccines onboard. It is moving forward with much greater confidence in the world. And a lot of countries, allies in Europe and in Asia are wondering what is the Biden administration going to do about this? How can it find a way to both cooperate and compete with China? That’s really the big question.”

Follow Jeff Poor on Twitter @jeff_poor

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Western United and a local council are building a $150 million football stadium essentially out of thin air, thanks to a concept called value capture

Western United has kicked goals in the A-League, almost making the grand final in its debut season.

But it is off the field where they are having an even bigger impact, financing a new $150 million stadium essentially out of thin air.

In Melbourne’s rapidly expanding western suburbs, the new 15,000-seat Wyndham Stadium facility is set to rise out of a paddock and host games from the start of 2022.

No state or federal government money has gone into the plan to build the stadium, which has been entirely financed by the local government’s use of a ‘value capture’ model that could help boost infrastructure in Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

“Value capture is a closed-loop system of ensuring that the public receives a share of publicly funded infrastructure,” said Karl Fitzgerald, director of research at think-tank Prosper Australia.

“In Australia it’s largely the case that the public funds the infrastructure and private landholders who live nearby take the windfall [gains]. That has to change.”

Standing in a paddock about 20 minutes by train from Melbourne’s CBD, Kate Roffey explains the scheme.

Her title, director of deals, investment and major projects at Wyndham City Council, gives you a hint about the model — it creates public value by allowing a private developer to make a profit too.

“The ‘Field of Dreams’ we call it, because it takes a lot of vision to think that one day there’ll be a major sporting precinct out here,” she said, pointing to where the stadium will sit, next to a new station on the Melbourne-Geelong rail line.

Kate Roffey, director of deals, investment and major projects at Wyndham City Council, says the value capture idea “takes a lot of vision”.(ABC News: Peter Drought)

Essentially, Wyndham Council — the fastest-growing area in Australia — has given a 100-hectare paddock to the Western United team.

The sale of the majority of the land to developers, beyond the land used for the stadium, will pay the up-front costs of the venue.

The concept is that a profit is made when vacant land is developed into commercial and residential options, and that profit goes to the development of infrastructure rather than into a shareholders’ pockets.

That’s because the land will be sold for commercial and medium-density housing around the new drawcard venue. That makes it more valuable than standard ‘greenfield’ sites, areas without infrastructure or other buildings.

“The biggest question is: is our council paying for it? And the answer is no, we’re not,” Ms Roffey said.

“We’re providing, at no cost, the piece of land, apart from about six and a half hectares for the stadium itself. Anything that the developer wants to develop on, they pay for … purchased at market rate, stays in the ownership of council and we use the profit to pay for the stadium.

“So you need a group of investors who were really interested in doing something good for the community, as opposed to saying ‘we could just buy the land, develop it ourselves and put the cash in our pockets’.”

The model is common in Hong Kong and has helped finance the massive new crossrail tunnel under London.

In 2016, the Victorian Government floated the idea as a way for landholders who benefit from infrastructure — such as a new underground train line being dug under Melbourne’s central business district — to contribute to the cost of projects.

But it hasn’t taken it up.

‘Golden pen tick’ worth millions

That’s a missed opportunity, according to Mr Fitzgerald.

“It’s in the hundreds of thousands, often millions of dollars with what we call the ‘golden pen tick’,” he said, describing the soaring value of land when it is rezoned from industrial or farmland to residential, particularly for high-rise residential towers.

“When the government gives you that that pen tick to build upwards, up goes the land value and you’re sitting on an absolute killer —you’ve made good, good money.

“A little bit is captured through land taxes, a little bit through council rates but really it’s crumbs on the table compared to multi-million-dollar profits that are made through choices of, for example, which way a train line goes.”

A live example is Fisherman’s Bend in Melbourne.

The industrial zone, close to the CBD, is mooted as the largest urban renewal project in Australia and set to be home to 80,000 residents.

But when the former government rezoned the land from industrial to high-rise residential overnight — creating windfall profits for landowners — not only was none of that value captured, but the state was immediately priced out of the land it needed to build services like public transport, schools and open space.

It’s the real estate industry’s mantra of “location, location”, said Mr Fitzgerald — the true value of a piece of land lies in how well situated it is and what it’s close to.

“It’s crucial in real estate strategy but if you look at the economic theory it’s all but ignored,” he said.

“Value capture closes that loop so that those who have the best location and have the greatest windfall gains, actually contribute more back to the public coffers than those who live two, three, or four kilometres away.

“That’s the common-sense element of it. At the moment we’ve got this sort of take-take mentality and we need to change.”

Development risky enough, says property lobby

Property groups are less enthused about a potential new tax on land.

Former Property Council of Victoria executive director Cressida Wall explains that every step of the development process is taxed, and charges like property tax are already closely linked to the value of land.

“People who are participating in the property industry — consumers, people who buy dwellings, people who are tenants in commercial buildings — they are paying enough in taxes,” she said.

“They pay more than 45 per cent of state revenue, they pay 25 per cent [of the cost of] a new dwelling in the greenfields … that’s enough tax, they’re already paying enough.”

The council suggests the inherent risks in developing property are already accounted for in the financial models used to obtain financing. Adding a further level of complication would simply add expense.

“Property developers price that risk into what they do and where they can’t they have to get that money from somewhere else. The costs get passed on,” Ms Wall said.

“All projects are going face more challenges to get finance and stack up in a post-COVID environment where demand and sentiment is compromised. In that context, additional taxes are more problematic than ever.”

Proponents of value capture argue it can help finance the billions of dollars of infrastructure required in our increasingly dense cities.

Mr Fitzgerald points to 2016, when the last gasp of a property boom sent the value of land in Australia from just over $5 trillion to almost $6 trillion. (As of June 2020 it was up to $7.1 trillion.)

“Land values in Australia went up over $660 billion in one single year,” he said.

“Now if just a tiny curve of that went back to government we’d be able to build all the infrastructure we needed.”

A woman with blonde hair stands in a dry field on a grey day smiling.
Kate Roffey says the concept could help fill Australia’s infrastructure gap.(ABC News: Peter Drought)

Ms Roffey sees the concept as the answer for more than just the rapidly growing area she represents.

“We need to use more of these value-capture style mechanisms because we can’t keep going to state and federal governments and saying, ‘You build it for us’,” she said.

“Because we need trains, we need airports, we need major road construction, so part of the value capture idea that we’ve been working on down here is: ‘How can we help fill the infrastructure gap?'”

If successful, if could mean a lot more fields of dreams being built.

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