A View From The Edge
Issues in Rural and Metropolitan Fringe Planning

Ian Sinclair,
Principal Consultant, Edge Land Planning
Rural and Environmental Planning Consultants

As published in New Planner, The Magazine of the Planning Profession in NSW
Number 64, Dec 2005
Sydney's Rural Land and the Metro Strategy
Sydney's rural land and the landscapes that contribute to its makeup are an important component in any future planning strategy for the city. Sydney's rural landscapes are located on the fringe and extend from Gosford, Wyong and Hornsby in the North, to the Blue Mountains in the west and Wollondilly, Wingecarribee and the Wollongong area in the south.
This rural land has three productive components: a source of food and fibre, a natural resource as well as a place to live. There is a need to provide for all three of these components in a balanced manner.
The rural lands provide $1 billion worth of agricultural production, which equates to 12% of the total NSW agriculture production. This has a flow on multiplier of 4 which means that it contributes $4 billion to the total economy. It is a major source of perishable vegetables, poultry meat and nurseries and turf.
The region has a variety of natural resources including biodiversity, steep sandstone escarpments and waterways.
People are choosing to live in the fringe more - both in the towns and villages as well as in a rural landscape on rural residential blocks. The Western Sydney Land Use Study has shown that 78% of all land uses are rural residential. A number of these people are also choosing to work from home (double that of the adjoining urban areas).
The rural lands contribute to the rural landscape of the region - something that people tend to take for granted and then complain about when they see houses growing on the land instead of farms.
The preservation of rural landscapes includes making provision for the 3 productive components mentioned above. The policy response needs to address:
  • Government Planning Policy and Zoning
  • Financial Incentives
  • Education
Planning policy includes the use of things like the Metropolitan Strategy and other policies like catchment management and natural resource policies. Zoning and land use regulations are also needed.
Incentive mechanisms can include rate rebates as well as creating a market for credits that are ascribed to the land. In return for these, the Council or Government can require farm management plans to ensure that the farm is managed sustainably.
Council rates are one of the largest single outlays for an agricultural producer. Rate charges are based on the value of the land. The rates paid by rural dwellers are considerably larger per ratepayer than the urban areas - research for the Baulkham Hills Shire Rural Strategy found that Intensive Agricultural uses pay $1,040 on average whilst those in the urban area pay $726. It should be noted that the people who live in the urban areas have a greater number of facilities and services available in close proximity. As rural land becomes more desirable for rural residential lifestyles, the value increases and this has a corresponding impact on rates. The farming community has borne this cost, without a commensurate increase in the value of production. In the Baulkham Hills case, it was calculated that if the farmer can get a 90% rate rebate, the cost when spread over the rest of the ratepayers is an extra $10 per year.
The other types of incentives mechanism is based around a credit which is ascribed to the land by way of a certain number of credits per 5 or 10 ha of land. This credit is then able to be purchased either by the Government or developers. These can then be transferred to urban areas where there can be an increase in the density. This would be in the form of height bonuses in the already existing high rise CBDs around Sydney. A similar scheme operates in the City of Sydney for heritage conservation. These schemes are not in operation in NSW at the present but are successfully used in the USA.
A further incentive is to lease parts of large farms on productive land to create multiple market gardens. This mechanism can be facilitated by the CMAs as it provides good catchment outcomes.
Education has been shown to be useful in overcoming misconceptions about the idyllic rural life that is often sought by rural residential landowners. Too often, the people living in the urban areas think that their food comes from a long distance or that it comes from the supermarket shelf. There is a need to educate them about where food comes from and the importance of having a rural landscape in close proximity to our large cities like Sydney. This can also help with improving the overall health and nutrition of the community. Links can also be made to the restaurant and catering industry by promoting fresh food that is grown in Sydney. Things like Hawkesbury Harvest can also be useful in providing education of the community as well as improving the profitability of agriculture by introducing agritourism aspects.
The future of Sydney's rural lands depends on the adoption of the 3 mechanisms outlined above. It is only then that we can grow food and grow houses and live sustainably.
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