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Australian Rural Planning
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 27, July - August 1996
Sydney's Agricultural Land
The Sydney region has a significant amount of Agricultural land which contributes to the food we eat and the plants we grow in our gardens. The land is located on the edge or fringe of the metropolitan area in areas like Gosford, Hornsby, Hawkesbury and Wollondilly.
Agricultural production in the Sydney Region has been valued by NSW Agriculture at approximately $1 billion per annum. This figure does not include the horse bloodstock industry which could be as high as $1 billion.
Analysis of the ABS Agricultural Census for 1994 - 95 highlights the dominance of Sydney as a producer of NSW total Poultry (44% meat and 48% eggs), Nurseries (44%), Flowers (55%) and Turf (58%) as well as perishable vegetables. It can be seen from figure 1(See Vegetable Graph 1) that the total NSW vegetable production is dominated by the Murrumbidgee and Murray regions and that Sydney only accounts for 10%. However when this is broken into perishable commodities (those that need to be near the market they serve and be fresh) a totally different picture emerges. Figure 2 (See Perishable Vegetable Graph 2)shows how the Sydney region is dominant.
This may come as a surprise to the planners who focus on the metropolitan area and do not consciously think about what is out there on the edge. However, when we ask ourselves why the fringe of Sydney produces so much of the fresh food and plants and we have aloof at the benefits that Sydney has, it becomes apparent. The market proximity and good climate for growing things are the major reasons why agriculture is in the fringe of Sydney. This also provides for a large proportion of the fresh cheap food that is consumed in Sydney.
The environmental positives of agriculture for Sydney are also a benefit. Agriculture is a more sustainable land use than urban development because, properly managed, it does not produce as many pollutants (urban runoff, sewage, air pollution and so on). It can also provide the land for the application of sewage effluent for the new range of sewerage treatment plants that are currently being built by Sydney Water. There are a number of other environmental positives of having an productive agricultural hinterland.
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We take for granted the presence of a rural hinterland around Sydney. However, it is the fringe Local Government Areas that are also developing at a high rate and eating up this agricultural hinterland. Topographically, Sydney is a basin. We have developed to the edge of the basin and are coming into conflict with the agricultural and environmental issues on the fringe. Agriculture cannot move over the lip of the basin into the western areas because, as we saw in the recent drought, there is not sufficient water. Nor is there the workforce and the cost of relocating the infrastructure is very high. So, it can be seen that there is a need to preserve the agriculture in the Sydney region as it provides for the rural hinterland that so many of the people who live in Sydney enjoy so much but take for granted.
How we manage the urban growth of Sydney is one of the most important issues facing those planning for the future of the region. We are coming to the time when we must treat agriculture as a constraint to urban growth and not a benefit - flat land in one large holding that is easy to develop and service. To do this we must undertake sound strategic planning that recognises all of the issues.
It is intended to explore the issues associated with the retention of a rural hinterland and productive agricultural industry in the Sydney region in forthcoming issues.
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  1. Vegetable Graph (Go there now...)
  2. Perishable Vegetable Graph (Go there now...)

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