A strategy aimed at protecting productive agricultural land in the Macedon Ranges is being challenged by farmland owners.
The local council’s draft Rural Land Use Strategy will scrap existing rights of landowners to build a dwelling in the Farm Zone on land of 40ha or more, which farmers fear will create barriers and uncertainty about their future.
Brigit Straus shares farmland properties in Bolinda and Darraweit Guim with her siblings, and fears they, and other landowners, could face additional expenses and delays in the planning process to build on their properties if the strategy is adopted.
“The minimum lot sizes to build without a permit have been set to zero and we believe there will be more than 400 properties across the shire that will be affected by this,” she said.
“Taking away build rights would detrimentally impact plans for both of our properties. Landowners could go through this whole process and still not be able to build.”
The strategy changes mean all landowners in the Farm Zone will need to apply for a permit to build, which will be scrutinised by the council and may be subject to conditions.
Rejected applications may be challenged at the Victorian Civil and Administration Tribunal, often a costly exercise and one without certainty.
The Macedon Ranges’ history of these applications for smaller properties at VCAT has seen varied and inconsistent results.
“The economic impact is going to be a deterrent and a dwelling is not just a place to live in but also where the business is run from. Not enough weight is given to that factor,” Ms Straus said.
“We’re in the equine precinct and we’re dealing with high-quality horses and need houses to look after them and to make the business viable.”
The council’s move echoes the state government’s Planning for Melbourne’s Green Wedges and Agricultural Land consultation paper that aims to protect agricultural land within 100km of Melbourne.
The paper, still under consideration, came under fire in February for its bid to remove landowners’ existing build rights.
Macedon Ranges Council’s director of planning and environment Angela Hughes said the council’s strategy responded to the impacts that dwellings could have on agricultural land uses which were identified during preparation of the draft Rural Land Use Strategy, and the preceding ‘In the Farming Zone’ and in the ‘Rural Conservation Zone Research and Investigation Report’.
“The draft Rural Land Use Strategy identifies that in areas that are still relatively unfragmented, planning policy should support agriculture by protecting productive agricultural land from further fragmentation and uses that would introduce land use conflict with agriculture,” she said.
“Introducing the 0ha lot size for a dwelling without a permit provides the ability to ensure that any new housing will not impact or reduce the ability of agricultural activities to conduct their business, and the right to farm agricultural land is protected.”
Like all council’s across Victoria, Ms Hughes said the council still awaited news on the state’s paper.
She said the draft Rural Land Use Strategy, for purposes of community consultation, currently aligned with the state government’s proposed 0ha minimum for triggering a planning permit for dwellings in the Farming Zone.
Community feedback received as part of the forthcoming community consultation process on the draft Rural Land Use Strategy will inform the council on whether this proposal remains a part of the final strategy.
Ms Straus is encouraging landowners to read the council’s strategy and make submissions to the process, and to follow discussions on the state government’s Planning for Melbourne’s Green Wedges and Agricultural Land consultation paper.