What are the main options outlined in the Discussion Paper?

This paper identifies a range of options to reduce the off-site impacts of intensive plant agriculture and minimise the opportunity for land use conflict. 

It is recognised that there is no single  immediate solution, and that a combination of different approaches implemented together, or in part is required.

A range of options have been explored, such as:

• Working with leading industry bodies and advisory groups to implement measures in the Australian Blueberry Growers Association Code of Conduct.

• Working with Industry and Government to explore, encourage and fund innovation to achieve best practice in the intensive plant industry.

• Use of the Right to Farm Policy, which seeks to manage expectations of nonfarming neighbouring rural residents.

• Strategic planning to reduce the encroachment of large lot residential (traditionally known as rural residential) and urban development into rural areas.

• Amendments to the Coffs Harbour Local Environmental Plan 2013 to include intensive plant agriculture as development with consent in Zone RU2 Rural Landscape, and development of criteria that if met, would enable intensive plant agriculture to proceed as exempt development.

• Funding to undertake:
• effective compliance of this land use; and
• further research impacts of this land use and mitigation measures.

• Working with government agencies to identify opportunities for Intensive Plant Agriculture through updated farmland mapping projects.

These options may assist in the ongoing management of existing and future development, ensuring that Intensive Plant Agriculture as an industry can continue to development in the Local Government Area.

In order to achieve this, both the planning and operational requirements of Intensive Plant Agriculture must aim to reduce offsite impacts and minimise the opportunity for land use conflict.

Why is Council preparing a Rural Lands Review?

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 community and strategically outlines the future growth of the local government area. Our LGMS includes a chapter devoted to rural lands.

There has 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.

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?

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.

One of the proposed actions of the draft Rural Lands Review 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 Review 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.