A group of eminent academics, economists and planners have put out a discussion paper On Higher Ground - a better future for Lismore

David Kirkpatrick
Updated August 3 2022 - 9:32am, first published July 29 2022 - 10:40am

An international competition should held to re-design Lismore post-flood, according to a group of eminent academics, economists and planners.

Given that Canberra and the Sydney Opera House resulted from such competitions and Prince Charles has taken a personal interest in the re-design of Lismore, it seems like an idea with some merit.

This group of eminent people believe it makes economic and psychological sense rebuilding a new Lismore CBD on higher ground.


A group of eminent people have written a discussion paper saying it makes economic and psychological sense rebuilding a new Lismore CBD on higher ground.
A group of eminent people have written a discussion paper saying it makes economic and psychological sense rebuilding a new Lismore CBD on higher ground.

Based on careful study of the catchment, and of the monitoring of rainfall and river heights during flood events, they estimated flood mitigation measures cannot protect the town from inevitable future flooding.

The authors of 'On Higher Ground - a Better Future for Lismore' are Adjunct Professor Barbara Rugendyke, a geographer from Southern Cross University (SCU), Professor Jerry Vanclay, an environmental scientist from SCU; and Mr Angus Witherby, a planner and economist.

They wrote the report as a group of professional people, two of whom live in or near Lismore, who decided to use their expertise to explore options in more detail based to date on what has been published in the media or elsewhere.

Professor Vanclay believes a design competition would energise discussion about the future of Lismore.

"The immediate benefit of running a competition would be you could put the leading entries on display and it would stimulate a big discussion on what we want it to look like," he said.

"It would be good to engage representatives from the business community and perhaps the designer could choose their own site whether that be on land at the golf course, or Goonellabah or land near SCU."

The group have estimated the cost of re-building Lismore's CBD and adjacent residential zones, or moving them to higher ground, would cost around the same amount, which is $1 billion dollars.

But when you factor in there are going to more devastating floods into the future it makes more economic sense to move all or significant parts of the CBD, according to Professor Vanclay.

"It would take some serious mitigation with heroic earthworks to try and stop flooding and that is just not economically, ecologically or socially acceptable," he said.

"There are some things that can be done to reduce the flood height but you can't eliminate flooding totally."

The group points to the town's current golf course as the most likely spot to re-build at least part of the CBD, as its already Crown land with existing links to the city and Wyrallah Road shopping centre.

Heritage buildings in the CBD could be preserved and utilised as professional offices and businesses more able to pack up and move at a moment's notice.

In terms of flood mitigation, even with a lack of hard data, the group maintains its impossible to engineer solutions to future proof flood events.

"It is impossible to accurately predict future flood heights for Lismore," the group concludes.

"Even if it were, every flood proves different, so to plan mitigation works which will effectively flood proof the current town, its CBD and flood prone housing, is not possible.

"Thus, based on the realities of the natural environment alone, even without factoring in potential increases in rainfall levels arising from climate change predictions, relocation of core functions of the town and of some housing is the best course of action for the future of Lismore."

The group also pointed out that apart from the physical and economic impacts of the floods there were negative social, emotional and psychological impacts, as well as detrimental results in terms of employment in the region.

The group has submitted its report to the independent flood inquiry, which is due to deliver it report to government, and also to Lismore City Council and the Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation.

To read the report go to: www.researchgate.net/publication/360937769_On_Higher_Ground_-a_better_future_for_Lismore

David Kirkpatrick

I'm a media professional with over 34 years of experience in public relations and journalism, including a decade setting Lismore's news agenda as the editor of The Northern Star. I have proven track record in growing audiences and improving engagement by delivering quality local stories for and about the Lismore community.