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Preserving farm land at all costs

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Written by SALLY EVANS.( Archived 19 Dec 08)   … Council says blocks too small



PLANNING applications to build houses on two lots at Bobinawarrah have been rejected to protect valuable agricultural land.

A Rural City of Wangaratta council meeting on Monday night heard the applications sought to build houses on two lots on the western side of the Carboor Everton Road.

Council’s infrastructure services director, Stephen Onions, said the lots were 27.65 hectares and 20.95 hectares and in a farming zone.

“The subject land is located within an agriculturally active area and has a moderate to high agricultural versatility class,” he said.

“The land was previously used for cattle grazing.”

Councillors were told that state planning policy “clearly discourages” construction of dwellings on land under 40 hectares.

This aims to prevent productive agricultural land being carved up for residential purposes and avoid amenity issues with homes in farming zones.


Cr. Paino

Councillor Roberto Paino said council had little option but to refuse the application, which doesn’t meet the planning requirements.

“We’ve got two lots there, it says they’ve got to be over 40 hectares, and these are 27.65 and 20.95 hectares,” he said.

“They just don’t tick the boxes in terms of our current planning scheme.

“There has been no explanation as to what the land could possibly be used for other than developing lifestyle blocks, and that just breaks up more farming land.”

It was also noted that the site would be included in the agricultural land study and strategy currently being developed by council and which may influence future development in the area.


The Rural City of Wangaratta continues to positively discourage settlement in rural areas much to the chagrin of those already living here.  Currently there is a baby boom going on in our rural areas and the infrastructure to support these young families is simply not there.   In the past, that infrastructure was there, but as the shift to the cities took place over the last fifty years, the existing infrastructure has been ignored or completely removed.  Now that there is a lifestyle shift from the cities to the country and seaside, local government should be reacting and competing for this mobile population.

Whilst “ state planning policy “clearly discourages” construction of dwellings on land under 40 hectares“, that does not mean that all applications must be rejected.  Last month, the RCoW rejected one applicationt to subdivide 500 acres  into four lots on the grounds that it would form a new population centre that would require extra infrastructure.

Clearly larger than the minimum of 40 hectares to allow housing, the council insisted that they still had the right to reject developmental applications on any parcel of land, no matter what the size.

Much of the agricultural land in the RCoW is clearly not viable to profitable agricultural pursuits but is ideally suited to lifestyle living.  You would think that this land broken up into small acreages would be conducive to  population increase thus generating more rates income for the council and improved viability for all commercial traders in the municipality.

Written by Greg Naylor

21 December 2008 at 12:00 am

Posted in social comment

17 Responses

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  1. You’re absolutely right, Greg. I couldn’t agree more. How is cattle grazing a “valuable” or desriable use of land? It’s actually eco unfriendly.

    We had a similar situation in Alpine last week when an attempt to re-subdivide 7 rural lots into 5 was rejected on the grounds that it would create ‘lifestyle properties’ in a rural zone. Big deal, so what? Not all rural-zoned land is suited to farming and, as Cr Daryl Pearce tried to point out, some of these ‘lifestyle properties’ preserve and protect the environment far better than farms do.

    He was put down (big time) by new councillor Peter Roper of Tawonga – a beef farmer – who said Pearce was talking ‘drivel’. I haven’t been a big fan of Daryl but what he was saying last week made a lot of sense to me … and what Roper was saying was crap. He even suggested the land could be used for pig farming! Oh yeah, get stuffed.

    Ray Dixon (Bright)

    21 December 2008 at 9:16 pm

  2. I disagree, the last thing we want is more people to compete for scarce water supplies. All councils should be discouraging population increases, not encouraging them.

    Graham Parton

    22 December 2008 at 7:45 am

  3. Graham, the fact is we have more than enough water to maintain the rural lifestyle. That’s why John Brumby is intent on taking our water to supply Melbourne. No contest!

    Greg Naylor

    22 December 2008 at 8:07 am

  4. Yes but we’re not talking about “maintaining” our rural lifestyle are we. We’re talking about replacing it with a suburban lifestyle, and that’s something we don’t have “more than enough water” for. Growth is not sustainable so we shouldn’t promote it.

    Graham Parton

    22 December 2008 at 1:34 pm

  5. “All councils should be discouraging population increases, not encouraging them.”

    That’s an astoundingly narrow (and wrong) view, Graham. And to base your arguments on nothing more than “scarcity of water” is just scare-mongering. By the way, lifestyle properties (people building a home on 5, 10, 20 acres, or whatever) is hardly “suburban” and there’s no evidence to suggest it’s not sustainable – in fact a lot of the tree changers are well into eco-sustainable practices.

    I don’t know what gives some people the right to say this is “our” town (or district) and no other f****er is going to come here and spoil it. Wake up, we live in a democracy.

    Ray Dixon (Bright)

    22 December 2008 at 1:50 pm

  6. You’re making some good points Ray, but you have a strange way of making them. Yes I agree, 5-20 acres isn’t exactly “suburban” and there’s nothing particularly sustainable about cattle farming. You’re wrong to assume that I base my arguments on nothing more than a scarcity of water though, they are much better researched and substantial than that, it’s just that I chose water to illustrate the point. The view that Australia is already overpopulated is one shared by a large number of concerned and wll informed people, and there is ample evidence to support it. Widespread water shortages is just one small part of the evidence. Our world records on sepecies extinction is another, as is the ever dimminishing food supply (take fish for example). Then there’s the overcrowding in the cities and the numerous problems associated with that. When the State and Federal Government do nothing about it, the task falls to local government, hence the call for local councils to start limiting their populations. That’s democracy.

    Graham Parton

    22 December 2008 at 1:58 pm

  7. Graham, Australia is NOT overpopulated. Please, go visit some 3d world countries.

    Ray Dixon (Bright)

    22 December 2008 at 2:15 pm

  8. Ray, you are making sweeping statements without reference to evidence. The last time the Senate investigated Australia’s Carrying Capacity they concluded that the optimum population was somewhere in the lower 20millions, and that anything over about 23m was going to be a big problem. Our immigration and fertility are both higher than they have ever been and we’re passed 22m, so I’d say that means we have a populaiton problem.
    The fact that third world countries have a bigger problem doesn’t change that, but it does give us an indication of what we can expect if we continue to cram more people into Australia. I have visited developing countries and seen first hand what overpopulation does. If we’re not overpopulated how come there are water shortages? How come we’ve almost run out of fish? Why are so many of our species becoming extinct (we’re world champions at that). Why are Melbourne trains now having the seats removed so they can fit more people in (there’s another hint at what it’s like in developing countries). I’d like to hear how many people it would take, or what evidence you would need to conclude that we are overpopulated.

    Graham Parton

    22 December 2008 at 2:54 pm

  9. Graham, we may well have an over population problem but what are we going to do about it in a democracy. The cities are certainly overpopulated and unless we bring more people into the rural areas to work in the agricultural industries, Australia will have lost the ability to feed itself.

    In the North East river upper catchment areas, we have some of the most fertile soil in the state. There are a number of areas where, although it has been classified as prime agricultural land, the lot sizes are not big enough for profitable farming or cropping. The current policy of not allowing houses to be built on less than 40 hectares effectively locks the land up from any worthwhile use. Subdiviion of this land for lifestyle living would accommodate those seeking an alternative to city living whilst providing the labour force required to keep our farms producing our food and extra rates income for the good of the broader community.

    Greg Naylor

    22 December 2008 at 3:29 pm

  10. Greg, I’m under the impression that lifestyle blocks are generally not particularly productive when compared to larger blocks, although I note that this really depends on what you do with it. A permaculture setup can be very productive, but too many people convert their land into larger versions of suburban houses with enormous lawns. This is the worst land use as it consumes a lot of water and produces almost no food. Your suggesting of further subdividing fertle land so that more people can live on it would do even more to reduce the amount of farming and food producing land.

    Don’t fall into the trap of wanting to expand the population so we can have extra rates “for the good of the broader community”. It never really works that way. The extra rates are needed to cater for the extra people, the common good doesn’t go up at all. In many cases it goes down. I’ve seen numerous communities ruined by over expansion. They lose the country feel that made it desirable in the first place. My experience is that people really don’t like it when they start getting traffic jams and lights, not to mention crime and the other things that go with larger communities. People who want high denisty living are well catered for with the cities, we should keep the qualities that make rural living so desirable.

    As for the most difficult question of what we are going to do about overpoulation in a democracy, I don’t know why being a democracy really makes much difference. Many other countries with different forms of government face the same problem. The first problem is to get people to realise that we have a problem, and Ray has demonstrated a common view that we don’t even have a problem. Some good places to start would be to stop paying people to have more babies – it’s a relatively new idea and it doesn’t do us any good. A second option would be to stop setting records for the number of immigrants – we now import more people than the Howard Government did, which in turn was more than any previous government. Is there a good reason for that?

    We will eventually address the problem of having too many people, it’s just a question of whether we do it now when we can do it relatively painlessley, or whether we wait until we run out of food / water / energy for our larger population and do it painfully.

    Graham Parton

    22 December 2008 at 4:22 pm

  11. Graham, you quote a Senate enquiry as your source of evidence that Australia is overpopulated? That says it all. Gee, what experts they’d be.

    Australia overpopulated with just 20 – 23 million people? Give me a break.

    To suggest we can jut lock the doors and instigate a zero population growth policy is totally unrealistic. It’s also rather bad for our economy.

    Btw, I don’t think the population of “fish” is any guide.

    Ray Dixon (Bright)

    22 December 2008 at 10:43 pm

  12. Ray, are you really dismissing the argument that Australia is overpopulated on the basis that a Senate Inquiry reached that conclusion? You may be interested to know that there are numerous other publications, many in major peer reviewed journals and in the popular media that reach the same conclusion. You also seem to believe that a Senate enquiry is undertaken by Senators. The Senate has access to expert opinion in almost everything it does, and the senators are presented with the best research available. In many cases new research is commissioned to investigate something on behalf of a senate enquiry.

    You seem unable to accept the notion that 23 million people is more than we can support at our present lifestyle and don’t see the exhaustion of one of our food supplies as evidence of it. Can you think of some other reason why our fish stocks (and most world fish stocks) have been overfished? It couldn’t have something to do with more people in the world eating fish could it? Fish stocks are just one of many environmental indicators that scream out to us that we are consuming at a rate faster than our ecosystems can supply. We have the same amount of water as we’ve always had but now there are shortages, but you don’t accept that this might have something to do with having too many people. We have more air pollution now than we ever had, and you don’t accept that this might be connected to more people driving more cars. Just how do you reach the conclusion that we’re not overpopulated? Are you able to point to any real research or evidence, or are you just going to keep on saying it and adding comments like “give me a break”.

    Why do you assume that “locking the doors and instigating a zero population policy” is the only policy option? Why leap to the most extreme position? I recall this debate started because of a local government planning policy. Are you suggesting that we must choose between a minor adjustment to the planning policy or a “zero population policy” as if there is nothing in between? Can’t we just stop subdividing farm land without having a zero population policy?

    Graham Parton

    23 December 2008 at 10:44 am

  13. So what would you propose, Graham, to solve this “over-population” problem you describe, a bit of culling? A bit of natural selection perhaps?

    Look, your argument is circular and self defeating. You say the cities are over-crowded and point to that as evidence of Australia being “over-populated”. Yet you advocate local councils in country areas, “should be discouraging population increases, not encouraging them.”

    Er, Graham, if you don’t allow people to ‘migrate’ from the cities to the bush, guess what will happen? The cities will continue to get all the money for infrastructure projects and all the resources diverted from country areas for their use. Oh my gosh, that’s what’s happening now!!!

    Why don’t you wake up and take your head out of the sand and realise that unless regional areas “aggresively” populate then they’ll just perish?

    Ray Dixon (Bright)

    23 December 2008 at 9:27 pm

  14. You’re talking ridiculous extremes again Ray. Are you suggesting that we either agree with the subdivision of some rural land or the next option is culling people?

    You’ve also misconstrued my argument – I’m saying that the whole country is overpopulated – so it doesn’t really matter if people move from a city that lives beyond it’s resources to a rural area that lives beyond its resources. Neither has any merit unless we stop increasing the population, which is now increasing faster than at any time in our history.

    The idea that we need to populate or perish is our main point of disagreement, and you seem to want to stick to that idea despite overwhelming evidence that what is more likely is that if we continue to overpopulate we will perish. Having more people stretches all natural resources and undermine the ecosystems we need to survive. There’s only so much water you can extract from the ground, or fish in the sea, or arable land you can farm. Are you aware than in India and China many of the rural well are drying up – they populated and now they are perishing.

    There’s another point I’ve also noticed when I see this debate happening, the pro-growth lobby is always ruder than the sustainability lobby. Wouldn’t it be more productive if you stuck to the issues and stopped with the comments like; “Why don’t you wake up and take your head out of the sand”, or “give me a break”, or “wake up, we live in a democracy” not to mention the constant but sadly misguided sarcasm. I’m much more interested in serious discussion.

    Graham Parton

    24 December 2008 at 7:10 am

  15. Sorry if you’re offended Graham, but it’s hard to take the zero-populationists seriously. Btw, comparing Australia to India & China is really taking things to extremes.

    Anyway, you didn’t answer my question, what would you propose to do about keeping our population as it is?

    Obviously you’re not in favour of enforced sterilisation so I guess you realise people will continue to breed. Hmm, it seems to me we’d need to STOP IMMIGRATION altogether if we want to have zero population growth. Is that what you want?

    Ray Dixon (Bright)

    24 December 2008 at 8:30 am

  16. Btw, the question of unlocking some rural zoned properties for lifestyle properties IS directly related to the issue of population growth so I’m not getting off the track. If you’re advocating zero population growth for “the whole country” then you need to support that with a plan.

    Ray Dixon (Bright)

    24 December 2008 at 8:42 am

  17. I’m interested in any idea that can get us away from overpopulation and mass starvation. I don’t know if I’m a “zero populationist”, wouldn’t that be someone who favours no population, i.e. no people?

    I compared us to India and China because you suggested I should go to third world counties before I said Australia is overpopulated. Both of those countries are extremely overpopulated and are good examples of what we want to avoid. You were suggesting that because our problems aren’t as acute as theirs that somehow ours don’t matter. Do you do the same with economic arguments? Our poor and homeless aren’t as desperate as theirs, so do you conclude that ours aren’t important or somehow don’t matter.

    I’m against a growing population, and in favour of a reducing poulation down to a sustainable level. You appear to want to take the argument to extremes and talk about culling, sterilisation etc. That can work against you too, as your argument could just as easily be taken to extremes. How many people would it take before you agree we had too many in Australia – 100 million, 200 million, a billion. Eventually you would have to agree that it’s too many any we would have to find ways to reduce it. Incidentally at that stage sterilisation and culling wouldn’t be radical ideas, although starvation will do most of the culling for us. Therefore given that both extremes are unpalatable, we need to look at ways to solve the problem before it overwhelms us.

    You don’t appear to be interested in looking at moderate or intermediate solutions. I believe I am pointing to a significant problem but you are saying that unless I have a complete solution to the whole problem of overpopulation, you don’t want to hear about the problem. Worse, you imply that there is no problem unless I can come up with a solution to it. That position isn’t particularly logical. I could suggest for example that we might be having a recession. Would you refuse to accept it unless at the same time I came up with a solution to the recesstion?

    Given that I think this is the most difficult problem we’ve ever faced, then it’s important to start talking about solutions, not rubbishing them. For example what’s wrong with reducing immigration back down to what it was ten or twenty years ago? Is that an outrageous position? Why then did you put the suggestion in capitals when you wrote “ seems we’d need to STOP IMMIGRATION altogether if we want to have zero population growth”.

    Incidentally that wouldn’t be enough. Even if we had no immigration we’d still have a growing population. One step in the right direction would be to stop the generous government subsidy to have more children. There’s a campaign running in Britain at the moment called the “One less child” campaign where people who might have wanted three children are encouraged to think about having two, and people who wanted two are encouraged to think about having one.

    That’s two suggestions on how we can stop the runaway population growth. I assume this now answers your question, and no, it wouldn’t achieve zero population growth but it would at least slow down the increase. So would local councils taking an approach that discourages rather than encourages growth.

    Graham Parton

    28 December 2008 at 8:34 pm

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