Why is Council preparing a Rural Lands Chapter?

    Council is currently in the process of reviewing and updating its Local Growth Management Strategy (LGMS). An LGMS is a document that is developed in partnership with the NSW Department of Planning and Environment and the community, and strategically outlines the future growth of the local government area. Our LGMS includes a chapter devoted to rural lands.

    There have also been changing expectations about the way people want to live, work and recreate in our rural areas, as well as changes in our agriculture and rural tourism economies. We have also developed a better understanding of the connection between human actions and our environment’s resilience.

    To preserve the distinctive character, values and economic capacity of our rural areas for future generations, a more holistic strategy for all rural land uses is required.

    What are the main issues captured in the draft Rural Lands Chapter?

    The review process has highlighted the fact that rural lands in the Coffs Harbour local government area encompass a very broad range of activities with sometimes competing and conflicting interests. The issues raised throughout both phases of the draft Chapter reflect this range in breadth and complexity and include topics captured under broad themes including:

    ·  Economy – diversifying land uses, economic opportunity, visitors (tourism), right to farm, the importance of farming, intensive plant agriculture and minimum lot size (for agriculture).

    ·  Community – infrastructure, demographics, minimum lot size, additional dwellings, intensive plant agriculture and land use conflict.

    ·  Environment – land use, environmental zones, topography, native vegetation / biodiversity, water use, weeds, intensive plant agriculture and Aboriginal Cultural Heritage.

    ·  Governance – complexity of policy and process, need for clear and transparent policy and user friendly documentation.

    Does this Chapter address “rural residential” development?

    The Rural Lands Chapter is not a “rural residential strategy”. Rather, it represents a detailed, objective assessment of rural land, its inherent capability and potential suitability for a range of rural uses.

    The “Large Lot Residential” (also known as Rural Residential) Chapter 6, forms a separate chapter of the LGMS.

    Why has there been a focus on Intensive Plant Agriculture?

    Council acknowledges the significant contribution that Intensive Plant Agriculture (IPA) makes to the local economy. Some sectors of this industry have experienced a recent surge in uptake. This relatively sudden change to the local industry has reinvigorated many rural properties across the local government area and land use conflict between rural and non-agricultural rural activities was one of the most significant issues identified during public consultation undertaken for the Rural Lands Review so far. The existence of many small rural zoned allotments with associated dwellings dotted across the rural landscape has amplified the potential for this kind of land use conflict.

    Although some IPA functions such as the use of pesticides and water harvesting are regulated by various State Government authorities, there are many other potential issues and impacts that fall within Council’s responsibility to regulate, including:

    ·  Storage and use of chemicals (other than pesticides);

    ·  Land use and clearing within Environmental zones;

    ·  Waste generation and disposal;

    ·  Sediment and erosion control;

    ·  Stormwater management and run-off which can impact on catchment health;

    ·  Hydroponic waste-water;

    ·  Visual impacts;

    ·  On-farm amenities and facilities for employees;

    ·  Buffers from adjacent residential land uses;

    ·  Traffic generation and impacts;

    ·  On-site car parking and delivery points; and

    ·  Overall farm plans.

    More information about impacts on water catchments can be found here: https://www.coffsharbour.nsw.gov.au/environment/Compliance-and-Reporting/Pages/Monitoring-Our-Waterways.aspx

    Why is Council proposing to introduce a requirement for new or expanded Intensive Plant Agriculture activities to obtain development consent in the RU2 Rural Landscape zone?

    One of the proposed actions of the draft Rural Lands Chapter is to amend the Coffs Harbour Local Environmental Plan (LEP) 2013 to require Development Consent for IPA in the RU2 Rural Landscape zone.

    Not all new IPA activities would require development consent. Another of the proposed actions of the draft Rural Lands Chapter is to amend the LEP to include “exempt development” criteria which would mean that if certain specified parameters were met, development consent would not have to be obtained prior to commencing that IPA use.

    One of the benefits of requiring development consent for IPA is that it provides a proactive opportunity to prevent issues before they may occur and will support best-practice farm management holistically across all issues and potentially at a catchment and regional scale.  There are currently no other tools available to achieve this at this point in time.

    The development consent process provides a degree of certainty for both the farmer and the community. Utilising the full extent of planning tools available, including the consideration of development for the purposes of IPA can therefore assist in the longer term viability and growth of the industry in Coffs Harbour. It will provide an opportunity to address the particular set of considerations for IPA to ensure the highest industry standards are continuously met, address the concerns of the wider community, manage off site environmental impacts and mitigate land use conflict through a transparent approval process.

    Would existing Intensive Plant Agriculture activities require development consent?

    The provisions of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 acknowledge that there will be circumstances where land uses have commenced lawfully, and a subsequent change in planning legislation has the potential to restrict how that use may be conducted into the future. A “continuing use” may apply in this situation, where a use is lawfully commenced without consent and a subsequent law (e.g. a requirement for development consent for IPA) requires consent to be obtained for that use.

    The provisions of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 allow continuing uses to continue operating without the need for further approval to be obtained from Council, provided that the nature of the use remains the same as that which existed at the date the new LEP requirement comes into effect.

    If a person is conducting a continuing use on a property, and wishes to undertake:

    (a) any alteration or extension to or rebuilding of a building or work; or

    (b) increase the area of the use; or

    (c) any enlargement or expansion or intensification of the use;

    then prior development consent from Council will be required.

    What could "exempt development" criteria look like?

    As the draft Rural Lands Chapter is an over-arching strategic document, it is not within the scope of the Chapter process to determine the precise exempt development criteria. However, the likely exempt development criteria that would follow may address issues including:

    ·  On-farm amenities and facilities for employees;

    ·  Storage and use of chemicals;

    ·  Buffers from waterways and adjacent residential land uses;

    ·  Traffic generation and impacts;

    ·  On-site car parking and delivery points;

    ·  Surface flow, nutrients and sediments; and

    ·  Visual impacts

    Another of the proposed actions of the draft Rural Lands Chapter is for Council to work with relevant industry bodies to determine appropriate exempt development criteria that support the Blueberry Code of Practice and other Best Management Practice programs.

    If I am currently growing fodder crops, what would I need to do?

    Nothing. If you grow crops to feed your animals, you will not have to submit a DA.

    Under the current and proposed planning controls, extensive farming practices like growing crops or grazing cattle, are not being considered for requiring development consent.