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Hundreds protest in farm fight

Not happy: Bass Coast VFF branch president Bill Cleeland of Phillip Island chaired the public meeting at the Kilcunda Hall on Thursday night.

FARMERS have opposed drastic changes proposed in Bass Coast Shire Council’s new farm draft report that could see rural land devalued, farmers tens of thousands out of pocket and impacts statewide.

Farms greater than 40 hectares in the shire will be significantly devalued if the council’s rural land use strategy is approved.

At least 200 people attended a protest meeting at the Kilcunda Hall last Thursday night.

Farmer Alan Brown believed making a decision on the strategy will be the new councillors’ biggest test, adding proposed changes would have a major impact on land values.

Submissions to the draft strategy were due to close on Friday. By noon that day, 56 had been received but more are expected.

Given interest in the issue, council has agreed to continue accepting submissions until the matter comes up for decision at the June 19 open meeting.

“This will be a major decision,” Mr Brown said.

“It affects people’s lives, farms and the value of their farms.”

Mr Brown said there was standing room only in the hall and a motion was passed that the status quo remain.

Long term Phillip Island farmer Ewen Cameron proposed the motion: “The farmers present formally and respectfully request that the Bass Coast Shire Councillors reject and do not endorse the key recommendations proposed by the Draft Rural Land Use Strategy.

“We formally and respectfully request the councillors maintain the status quo of 40 hectares, as the minimum requirement for approval of a dwelling without a planning permit.

“We formally and respectfully request that the councillors do not adopt the recommendations for the proposed new Rural Activity Zones until the proposed individual districts and their communities have the opportunity to conduct a detailed study for each district.”

This motion was seconded by Mr Brown and carried unanimously.

The main bone of contention is the strategy’s proposal to increase the minimum lot size for a dwelling in Farming Zone One from 40 hectares to 100 hectares or 250 hectares, depending on which of three precincts the land is in.

Even after council’s community consultation meetings regarding the major changes, farmers at the public meeting were still in the dark about how the changes would affect them.

The meeting was hosted by the Bass Coast branch of the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) and chaired by president Bill Cleeland.

Three guest speakers were Peter O’Toole, director Beveridge Williams in Wonthaggi; Jacob McElwee, VFF senior policy adviser land management; and Greg Price, Phillip Island selling agent, Alex Scott Real Estate.

Mr McElwee gave examples from shires in northern Victoria where the same consultants working for Bass Coast had prepared rural land use strategies and the minimum lot sizes in those strategies were similar to the sizes proposed for Bass Coast. He spoke of uncertainties in those shires.

Mr O’Toole said the existing planning provisions provide an effective approach to controlling development in rural areas.

He said the proposed minimum lot size for subdivision of 80ha and for a dwelling of 250ha, for the majority of the shire, was completely inappropriate.

“The government’s intent was the minimum lot sizes should be ‘tailored to suit the farming practices and productive capacity of the land’,” he said.

“Council’s desire to limit built form in the landscape is a dominant theme in the draft strategy. If the minimum lot sizes haven’t been based on the productive capacity of the land, it would seem council has chosen the minimum lot sizes to be able to limit built form in the landscape.

“The government’s original intent of allowing councils to nominate different sizes for dwellings and lots in the rural zones was to allow for the creation of tradable land units that would help farmers incrementally and affordably grow their holding. “The minimum lot size for a dwelling was intended to relate to the productive capacity of the land and the ability of the land to sustain an agricultural business.

“The draft strategy’s recommendations for minimum lot sizes of 80ha for a tradable land unit and 250ha for a dwelling is inconsistent with these principles.”

Mr O’Toole indicated this could mean enormous costs to local farmers if they had to apply to council for building permits. If rejected, they would be forced to VCAT, costing farmers tens of thousands of dollars.

Talking to The Star after the meeting, Ventnor farmer Greg Price said the draft proposal would restrict farmers’ ability to do as they wished with their farms.

“It appears the Bass Coast Shire is just trying to make it more difficult for farmers to build on their properties,” Mr Price said.

He has also lodged a submission with council. His view is more time is needed.

Mr Price said the proposed lot sizes did not relate to the productive capacity of land in the shire and the existing minimum lot size for a dwelling – 40 hectares – was more appropriate.

He also opposes the inclusion of landscape considerations in determining the minimum lot sizes for the Farming Zone, saying minimum lot sizes should be determined on the productive capacity of land.

Mr Cameron said the proposed 100 hectares for Phillip Island is more than double the 40 hectare present limit.

“Most of the block sizes on Phillip Island are only 40 hectares,” he said.

“Some of the old farming families have handed the farm down through the family for generations.”

Mr Cameron said the same RMCG consultants tried to get the same draft proposal through other shires, including Campaspe and Wangaratta.

“It seems it hasn’t been that successful as the Minister for Planning (Matthew Guy) intervened in Wangaratta as farmers were up in arms and it was rejected,” he said.

The meeting heard the rules could lead to banks restricting access to credit or even requiring farmers to make payments to compensate for the reduced value of their properties.

Mayor Cr Clare Le Serve and deputy mayor Cr Neil Rankine attended the meeting.

The mayor said council had not made any decision about the draft strategy.

Mr Cleeland encouraged farmers to lodge submissions.

“The VFF is happy to assist farmers and we can email or send out forms and help with submissions,” he said.

Councillors will decide on the draft strategy on June 19. If there are no objections, the draft will become council policy.

Submissions can be lodged to council’s strategic planner by emailing: strategicplanning@basscoast.vic.gov.au

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=7207

Posted by on May 28 2013. Filed under Featured, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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