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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 40, September 1999
What is Rural Land?
This is a question that has as many answers as there are people who are involved in rural planning. The crudest definition is that rural land is all land that is not urban. However, that is too simplistic for any definition of rural land. Wide open land, farmland, natural areas, forests, national parks, mountains, rivers, lakeshores, urban fringe and rural residential areas all make up the landscape that we describe as rural. It is not any one landform or land use. It is the mixture of them that evokes the term rural land.
This question has been asked to people who have been in lectures or workshops this year. The answers were very different. They can be grouped under the following headings: agricultural uses and activities; natural areas, scenery and landscapes; sense of peace; lifestyle; low density / open; food and clothing; problems; biodiversity and climate. The full list contains in excess of 100 answers and can be viewed by clicking here. The thing to note is that everybody has a different definition of rural land, depending on a range of things such as their background, age, where they live, etc.
The main feature of rural land, to me, is that it has an unplanned, non-uniform, natural look and can be described as "chaotic". This to me describes rural land the most accurately - it is a mixture of uses where no one use is the dominant one. You could say that the dominant use is rural!
What is Rural Character?
Rural Character is a term that is often misunderstood and misused when applied to rural land. The character of a place is the thing that distinguishes rural land from urban land. Rural character is made up of a number of components - the one thing they have in common is the feeling of openness. They include the following natural and modified landscapes: open spaces, natural areas, market gardening, plantations, cropping, sheds, artificial housing, vegetation (trees, shrubs and grasses), houses and outbuildings, varying topography including rolling hills and steep gorges, rivers and streams.
What are Rural Land Uses?
The uses carried out on rural land, as opposed to urban land, can range from the traditional extensive agricultural uses (cropping and grazing, horse studs, etc) to traditional intensive agricultural uses (market gardens, orchards, vineyards, turf, poultry and cattle feedlots) to the newer or non-traditional agricultural uses such as deer, alpaca and lavender growing to olives, farm forestry, sheep and goat dairying. Rural uses can also be non-agricultural. Such things as tourist facilities, eco-tourism activities, schools, mining and quarries and the like can all be classed as rural uses. Rural land uses can also be natural areas such as bushland, escarpment areas and rivers.
What is Rural Planning?
Rural land is taken for granted by the community. "It will always be there". "There is no need to plan for it". "What issues could there be?" "It is easy - all you have to do is plan for a few farmers." How many of us have heard these phrases! But as we all know it is not so simple.
There are a number of issues to be looked at for rural planning. All of the issues, which comprise a number of interrelated topics, have an impact on each other. The key issue is the need for healthy catchments. You cannot treat any of them in isolation. They can be categorised as follows: preservation of agricultural land; rural residential development; towns, villages and metropolitan fringe; rural land use conflicts; economic development; environmental impact; natural resource management; community consultation and communication; landscape preservation; and catchment planning.
Rural Planning is a complex and challenging discipline. It includes natural resource and environmental management issues as well as the "traditional" planning issues relating to the impacts of human use of natural resources. Ultimately, it is all about Growth Management. All of the decisions that have to be made about rural land have an impact on the density of development, character and environmental attributes of the rural area.
Rural Planning is different from urban planning. It has to consider all of the urban planning issues plus environmental pollution, rural land use conflict, catchment planning, lifestyle aspirations and economic and social issues associated with rural land uses. In my view, it is a more complex and difficult area of planning and one that needs to be better understood.
It can be seen that there is a wide range of views and aspirations people have to rural land. Rural planning is its own discipline and the planning profession and universities have to recognise this. There is a need for expertise in the multi-disciplinary topics of environmental, land use and social planning to ensure that we can proceed to the gaols of Ecologically Sustainable Development and Total Catchment Management. After all, we all want rural land to remain, but it needs to be planned for.
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