Councillors vote to change the Local Environment Plan

The packed gallery proved the proposal to regulate horticulture was the big issue for residents at Thursday’s Nambucca Shire Council meeting.

The recommendation was to amend the Local Environment Plan (which requires ministerial approval) and remove horticulture from the list of activities exempted from lodging development applications (DA) in large lot residential (R5), Primary Production (RU1) and Rural Landscape (RU2) zones. 

And ultimately that is what was set in train … but it was not without solid debate and attempts to find compromise.

Taylors Arm banana-grower Stephen Spears told the council that farmers often had to make quick decisions about what small crops to plant and the cumbersome process of a DA could seriously impact the viability of primary industry in the shire.

“This is a knee jerk reaction to the rapid growth of the blueberry industry but it captures a lot of other crops,” Mr Spear said.

“I believe the council should undertake consultation with all local horticulture industries before making any decision.”

Gurmesh Singh, spoke on behalf of the Australian Blueberry Growers Association, saying there had been a lack of consultation with farmers.

“This is an onerous step being taken before anything else has been tried,” Mr Singh said.

“It is incorrect to say the blueberry industry is unregulated – all the rules about spraying and chemical use apply and most berry growers do the right thing. There is a code of conduct being introduced – give it some time to reap results.”

Geoff Goesch was clear that DAs were needed for any farming in R5 zones.

“These areas are designed for those people who want some space outside of towns … they are not meant for crops. I believe applications should be required as for any other industry,” Mr Goesch said.

Speaking as a member of the Australian Institute of Horticulture, Mark Percival said conflict was emerging with the sudden emergence of intensive farming in rural areas.

“Careful planning and community consultation is what is needed to overcome this. Infringements so occur in pesticide use … from my experience the regulations are there but enforcement is haphazard,” Mr Percival said.

When asked by Cr Susan Jenvey whether the use of chemicals was more closely monitored around cities perimeters, he answered ‘there had been a pogrom there that had not reached the country’.

With Cr Brian Finlayson out of the chamber due to a conflict and Cr John Wilson absent, Cr Janine Reed  moved the decision be deferred, seconded by Cr John Ainsworth.

Cr Ainsworth said the impact of the decision was long-term and such things had always been decided by a full council in the past.

Cr Anne Smyth foreshadowed the need for full consultation with R5 residents as well as farmers.

Cr David Jones however said there was a quorum and “we should plough on with this”. The deferment motion was lost.

Cr John Ainsworth then suggested an amendment : that permission to plant be required for R5 land but not RU1 and RU2 and that buffer zones be measured from the boundary not the dwelling.

“RU1 and RU2 are already zoned for agriculture and should not have restrictions placed on them, whereas R5 is large lot rural residential and there is the issue of the rural/urban interface,” he said.

Cr Rhonda Hoban clarified his amendment, noting that any exemptions in the R5 zone would have to meet the required buffer zones and use black netting (as per the report).

Cr Reed said the amendment was a responsible compromise.

“We have a duty to vote for the whole shire – this decision could impact many residents.”

Cr Hoban said it was true that the DA process was detailed and expensive and she did not support it being applied to all agricultural activities.

Cr Jenvey said the amendment did not do enough to reduce land use conflicts and the future held much more besides farming.

In the end the amendment was defeated with Crs Ainsworth, Reed and Hoban for, and Crs Jones, Ballangarry, Jenvey and Smyth against.

The original recommendation, that DA approval be required on all horticultural activities that did not meet the conditions of exemption in R5, RU1 and RU2 zones, was then passed.

Crs Hoban, Reed and Ainsworth voted against the motion. All gave their reason as not supporting teh requirement of a DA for an activity that meets the objective of that land zoning (ie: RU1 and RU2 agricultural).

* The process of making changes to the LEP is lengthy.

This decision will now go to the minister for approval, it will then come back for community consultation, with a final decision then made be council and a sign-off by the minister.