A changing landscape?

A frosty morning on the farm.

Accommodation, restaurants and convenience stores could become part of Macedon Ranges’ farming and rural landscape, under the newly released Draft Rural Land Use Strategy.
Greater ease for tourism and commercial activity would come with the new Rural Activity Zone recommended for land in the shire’s northeast between Woodend, Malmsbury and Tylden.
A land analysis of the shire’s northeast found “the Farming Zone is no longer considered the most appropriate zone for this area as agriculture, while a dominant land use, is mostly ancillary to the primary land uses including rural lifestyle and tourism”.
The council-commissioned RMCG report found that while agricultural capability of the land was strong, commercial scale was limited by land fragmentation, high land prices and rural land use conflict.
“Agricultural viability of commercial enterprises is increasingly reliant on value-adding such as tourism,” the report stated.
According to the report, land between Woodend and Malmsbury is also significantly fragmented and, since 2006, experienced the highest concentration of new dwelling development in the rural areas.
“Broadacre agricultural enterprises have largely left the area and have been replaced by a mix of equine and small-scale specialist agricultural enterprises as well as hobby farming and rural lifestyle,” it states.
The Rural Activity Zone provides flexibility for agriculture and other land uses to co-exist, such as primary produce sales and group accommodation, but some residents have questioned its appropriateness for the area and the timing of its introduction as the state government reviews strategic agricultural land within 100km of Melbourne.
The contentious rezoning contributed to Macedon Ranges councillors’ struggle to endorse the strategy for public consultation in a 5-4 vote at their March ordinary meeting.
Mayor Cr Jennifer Anderson said she could see no strategic purpose for introducing a Rural Activity Zone with uses that were prohibited in the Farming Zone.
“I can’t see the strategic evidence for why nearly a quarter of our shire would want to be zoned Rural Activity Zone from north of Woodend to Malmsbury,” she said.
“The Macedon Ranges Protection Advisory Committee had 13 recommendations and this was not stated as something that needed to be included.”
The introduction of a Rural Activity Zone to the shire’s northeast is just one detail councillors took concern with.
Four years in the making, the draft strategy identifies four strategic objectives to guide rural land use: agriculture; environment, landscape, hazards and catchments; equine; and rural tourism.
Several key changes are recommended to support objectives including rezoning some Rural Conservation areas Farming with an environmental significance overlay, rezoning some areas of Farm Zone land Rural Conservation Zone, and removal of farm build rights for land over 40ha.
Cr Anderson, with Cr Anne Moore and Rob Guthrie, insisted on workshopping changes before the document was released for public consultation. Cr Guthrie urged there was “no need to rush” the document.
“I really believe that councillors should do more work before we put a document out to the community and make sure it’s correct. I think there are glaring mistakes in it and if you put it out in this form I think you’re starting to be on the verge of misleading the community,” he said.
While other councillors expressed some concern with the document, they argued community feedback would help inform change and it needed to happen now.
“This has been four years… The feedback helps us to deliberate and discuss further and have a really robust look at the document. If we feel it needs to go out again, then that can occur,” Cr Janet Pearce said.
A division recorded councillors supporting the document’s release in its current form were Crs Pearce, Neil, Bonanno, West and Ridgeway. Those against were Crs Anderson, Guthrie, Death and Moore.
Community feedback will be sought on the Draft Rural Land Use Strategy through the council’s website and other other channels.