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 69, March 2007
Rural Residential Sprawl
Rural residential development is defined as residential use of rural land where the main source of income is not the productive use of the land. This is not to say that these people do not have a few cattle or some horses or alpacas, but they do not derive the majority of their income from agriculture. They leave the property each day for work whilst some will work from home.
There is a trend occurring with rural residential development. It is becoming increasingly prevalent in those LGAs on the fringe of the metropolitan area. This has been called sea change and tree change, but I like the term 'lifestyle living' as it best encompasses the whole metro fringe area - coastal and inland. This trend is causing 'rural sprawl' as these uses take up farming and vegetated land.
The fringe of Sydney has traditionally been those LGAs that border the metropolitan area. It has been increasingly moving further out. Essentially, it is about 1-3 hours drive from the edge of the urban area. This means that it extends as far north as Great Lakes, west to Mudgee and Orange and in the south it extends to Shoalhaven. One of the major reasons for the fringe expanding is improved road access to the metropolitan area.
Contrary to most beliefs, the metropolitan fringe is mostly rural residential, not rural. A land use survey conducted in 2003 of the immediate fringe (Western Sydney Rural Land Use Study - Baulkham Hills to Blue Mountains to Campbelltown) found that 78.3% of the land use was rural residential. Land use surveys conducted recently for Councils further out has shown that the proportion of rural residential is higher than 60% of the total number of lots. It should be pointed out that a lot of this land has been subdivided for a number of years - sometimes in excess of 50 years.
Whilst the majority of these rural residential uses are on lots of less than 3 ha, the Western Sydney Rural Land Use Study found that 20 % of them are on lots greater than 3 ha. This trend is also evident in areas further out. A fragmentation analysis conducted in association with the Western Sydney Rural Land Use Study found that 76.6% of all land comprises lots less than 3 ha.
Analysis of the 2001 Census data for all rural CDs in some fringe Council areas has shown that, compared with urban areas, there are double the number of people who work from home. This indicates that people are moving to these areas and setting up businesses and working from home for lifestyle reasons. This analysis has also shown that the residents of the fringe areas work in retail trade, health and community services, education, manufacturing as well as farming. These industry sector proportions are similar to the urban areas, indicating that the rural residents have an urban demography.
This trend to rural lifestyle living is increasing the price of land. This has increased from $300,000 for 2 ha in 2000 to $1.5 to $2.5 million dollars today. This is having a big impact on the ability to purchase land for agricultural use. It is also the reason for the high price of land for new housing on Sydney's fringe. Developers are paying up to $2 - 3 million per hectare for land that is to be released for future urban development in accordance with the Metro Strategy.
The DPI estimate that the Sydney basin produces $1 billion per year of agriculture output which makes it equivalent to 12% of the total NSW agricultural output. The people who live on a rural lifestyle block do not have much tolerance for the agricultural uses that already exist in the area. This causes rural land use conflict as they complain about the noise, odour and even cattle excrement messing up their 4WDs.
The fringe is also where the NSW Government are planning to house an additional 160,000 people. Analysis of these areas shows that there are in excess of 6,000 2 ha lots to be purchased and turned into residential uses. The cost of this has already been discussed. One issue that has not been discussed is that Councils are not producing many more of these rural lifestyle lots, leaving no where for the current people to move to. So it may be that some of the targeted urban releases will not occur or that it will take some time to pool the required land.
These sprawling rural residential uses have on-site effluent disposal which can cause water quality problems as well as impact on native vegetation.
So it can be seen that rural sprawl causes a number of problems. The solutions are complex and need to be addressed in a holistic manner. They will be discussed in the next issue. .
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