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 46, March 2001
Incentives as a Planning Tool
Incentives are a way of achieving a positive rather than negative approach to planning. It is easier to get people to do something if they are rewarded for doing it rather than penalised. This is very true for preservation of agricultural land as well as biodiversity conservation.
Incentives are currently used for economic development and heritage conservation. They are not widely used for farming or biodiversity conservation. As farming becomes less economically sustainable and the need to conserve biodiversity on private land increases, we should consider a range of financial and non-financial incentives.
Financial Incentives
The amount of money paid by farmers for rates is one of the largest single outlays. The amount of rates charged is normally based on the value of the land. This value is increasing which is due to a number of factors, one of which is the desirability for a rural residential lifestyle. This causes the rates to increase and the farmer is penalised for continuing to farm the land. One way to compensate the farmers is to offer a rate rebate. It is noted that a number of Councils currently offer a rate rebate however, in most cases this is not a realistic rebate. It could be as much as 50%, 75% or 80% of the residential rate. The farmer would have to apply for the rebate annually and it would only be granted if it is in conjunction with a property plan to prove that the farmer is carrying out sustainable agriculture.
A similar rate rebate could be provided for people to conserve or increase native vegetation on their property. The owner could enter into an agreement with the Council to conserve and / or enhance habitat corridor, which has been identified by an ecological study of the LGA in return for a rate rebate. However, under the current rating provisions of the Local Government Act, there is not provision for such a category and for it to be introduced would require an amendment to the Act.
The provision of a greater rate rebate would have to be offset by an increase in the amount of rates paid by other ratepayers. The State Government should also contribute to the rebate because the preservation of farmland and biodiversity is an issue of regional and state significance not merely a local one.
Another way of providing a financial incentive is to give a grant to people who are carrying out sustainable agriculture or conserving and or enhancing biodiversity. A special rate or environmental levy could fund this.
Non-Financial Incentives
Non-financial incentives include conservation easements or agreements, density bonuses, purchase of development rights and transferable development rights.
Conservation easements or agreements such as those that are provided for under the National Parks and Wildlife Service Act bind current and future landowners to a set of conditions on the use of the land. This can include limitation on clearing, fencing of important areas and restricting grazing on the property.
It is possible to identify properties as having potential for further development, and an incentive could be provided to the developer to gain a higher density of development in exchange for the conservation or enhancement of a biodiversity corridor or farmland that is not considered to be high class.
Purchase of Development Rights is a scheme whereby the rights to develop private land are purchased by a Government body or non-government land trust. A valuation of the land for its development potential is arrived at and this is subtracted from the valuation of the land for no development potential. The difference is given to the landowner in exchange for a restriction on the title of the land that it can only be used for farming as well as a requirement that soil and water management is carried out. This scheme is not in use in Australia, however it is used widely in United States o of America for agricultural land as well as biodiversity conservation.
Transferable development rights enable people to transfer development or clearing rights for valuable farmland or habitat areas to an urban area or to land of a lesser biological importance. This mechanism currently is used in the City of Sydney for the preservation of heritage sites in conjunction with building height limits.
One problem with these last two is the need to establish development rights. In rural land, it is widely held that there is no right to develop land and the only right is to lodge a development application. Is it not contradictory that we give a right to develop land to a certain height in the City of Sydney but not for rural land? Shouldn't the same principle apply across the board?
We tend to use controls to tell people what they can't do with their land and not incentives to encourage them. Isn't it easier to give someone a carrot rather than to use a stick?
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