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 58, March 2004
The Rural Fringe
We talk a lot in planning about the 'rural fringe' of our towns and cities but where exactly does it start and were does it finish? What are its characteristics? We need to know this because it is important when planning for the expansion of the metropolitan area.
The fringe has been referred to by others as 'exurbia', 'peri metropolitan' and 'peri urban'. However, I think that the term fringe describes it best.
In a recent publication, Ray Bunker and Darren Holloway of the Urban Frontiers Program at the University of Western Sydney (2001) have attempted to define the fringe. They contend that the fringe has 2 components - the inner part is the urban edge and the periphery is the outer boundary of the fringe. The boundary of the outer edge is harder to define.
According to most researchers, the outer edge is best defined by the outer limit of reasonable commuting distance to the urban area. The Sydney metropolitan region extends to Newcastle in the north and Wollongong in the south. If we classify the reasonable commuting distance as being 1 hour then the fringe of the Sydney metropolitan region extends to the southern parts of Great Lakes Council in the north, Lithgow in the west and the northern parts of Shoalhaven in the south.
The fringe has a diverse character. It is comprised of a variety of landscapes - flat to undulating grazing land, steep vegetated areas and highly productive agricultural land.
The land use is mostly rural residential. A recent land use study of all rural land in Western Sydney (from Baulkham Hills in the north, Blue Mountains in the West and Campbelltown in the south) undertaken by EDGE Land Planning provides a good guide to the land use. This found that 78.3% of all rural lots have a residential use as the major use of the property. Intensive Plant uses are the next most dominant with 6.8%. Land that is vacant is 4.9% and this is the third highest. Then it is Public Uses, Extensive Agriculture, Commercial, Intensive Animal Uses and Extractive Industries. These statistics are further backed up by other land use surveys of Wollondilly, Maitland and Great Lakes which show the same trends.
It is also highly fragmented. The same land use study found that 76% of all rural lots were less than 3 ha in size. When the land use is cross referenced with the lot size we see that approximately 80% of all rural residential uses are less than 3 ha. The study also found that about 65% of all the intensive plant uses were also on lots of less than 3 ha.
The fringe is becoming a place where an increasing number of people are choosing to live. People are moving from the urban parts to have a larger block of land and live in a rural environment. In consultations carried out in rural fringe areas, these people cite this as their main reason for moving to these areas and they also state that they do not want to see the area becoming urbanised. In addition, they are building large and expensive houses (some as large as 1,000 to 2,000 m2 in floor area).
The fringe is a significant resource of the fresh food grown in NSW. The main agricultural produce grown in Sydney's urban fringe is perishable vegetables, poultry, flowers and cultivated turf. There are also considerable dairies, orchards, horse studs and spelling properties as well as goats, deer, alpacas and other traditional forms of agriculture. This is valued at approximately $1 billion per annum.
The fringe also provides a resource for future urban housing for Sydney. DIPNR (the NSW Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources) is currently engaged in a master planning exercise for land in Bringelly in the south west and Marsden Park in the north west where a total of 200,000 dwellings are being planed .
As a result of these issues, the fringe is becoming a place of conflict - between those who want to grow food and those who want to live there as well as those who want urbanisation and those who choose the peace and quiet and open spaces for a rural lifestyle. This trend for rural lifestyle is increasing and is something that we need to consider.
It is interesting to note that DIPNR has recently announced as part of its new structure, an office of the metropolitan region and an office of coastal, rural and regional NSW. One question is where does the work of the metropolitan office end and the coastal, rural and regional office begin?
It is important, therefore that we consider the rural fringe when we are planning for the metropolitan region. The rural fringe has a character and population base of its own that should be considered. You could say that we should look from the outside looking in as well as the inside looking out when planning for the fringe.
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