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 56, September 2003
Rural Subdivision Minimums
Rural subdivision and the setting of minimums for dwellings and subdivision is one of the perennial issues for rural planning. It is acknowledged that there are a number of other issues that have to be considered, but this article is concentrating on a methodology for establishing a minimum for subdivision and dwellings.
One key aspect is that one solution does not fit all situations and it is likely that there will be several different minimums within one Council area. Another key matter to consider is that you need to have regard to the social, economic and environmental aspects of the area in question and to the fact that some areas can have a diversity of uses - not only agriculture and dwelling houses.
An article published in the latest edition of Australian Planner provides an excellent overview of the matters that have to be considered. Neil Barr in Future Agricultural Landscapes states that there is a need to address not only the minimum holding size but also the changes in the economic and social makeup of the rural land (including towns and villages) as well as the location of the land and the pressures that are placed on it.
In addition to these it is necessary to consider the local economic base, agricultural production, community aspirations and the amount of lifestyle uses that are being attracted to the area. There should be knowledge of the local land suitability for agriculture as well as the climate.
So now the question is how can we come up with a rational basis for a minimum for houses and subdivision? Work carried out recently for a number of Councils has provided one possible solution. It is based on an analysis of the land use and current holding patterns. As with all planning, it is first necessary to gather a database. This should be land use as well as holding sizes. You then need to divide the Shire into a number of similar landscape units.
Once this has been done, it is time for some old fashioned number crunching which can be done using a spreadsheet. This will provide the average holding sizes for the Shire and for the landscape units. It will also provide the distribution of holdings. This data will enable you to assess the potential number of lots that will eventuate from a number of subdivision scenarios, which includes the current minimum. It may well be that the application of the existing minimum to the area will create an unsustainable number of subdivisions. If there are too many dwellings in an area, this will cause problems with road maintenance and the provision of facilities and services.
It is then necessary to make an assessment whether:
  1. It is an important agricultural area that is to be protected - one that has good growing conditions, good soil and climate and accessibility to the market;
  2. It is an area of less valuable agricultural land that does not have a lot of high class land, not very good soils and a climate that is not reliable nor has good access to markets; or
  3. Whether it is an area sought after for amenity and lifestyle rather than purely agriculture
If the area is like that described in (a), then it is important to have a higher than average dwelling and subdivision minimum because it is an important agricultural area that can grow intensive forms of agriculture and needs to be preserved and retained. The distribution of holdings will provide some guidance. If the area is similar to that described in (b) or (c), then it is not going to be an area of high value for agriculture per se rather it is going to be an area were the landscape is the important component that needs to be preserved and the average holding size can be relied upon as a guide. In this situation, it is the placement of dwellings and buildings that is the most important thing to conserve.
All of this information has to be assessed when considering an appropriate minimum for dwellings and subdivision. It also has to be acknowledged that the arrival at a number is not the only matter for consideration for the future of an area. There are a number of other matters including the desired future character, land capability, impact on biodiversity, landscape considerations, access to the property, provision of facilities and services and impact on road maintenance.
In the end, the key is defining the outcome - be it agricultural, lifestyle or a diversity of uses. This then needs to be considered in conjunction with the range of holding sizes which is cross-referenced to the land uses in question.
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