IN A PACKED council chamber, a record-breaking gallery of about 300 people gathered around leading heads from the farming industry and councillors to discuss changes that could impact the local blueberry industry.

First on the agenda was a motion submitted by Mayor Denise Knight for the council to work with other NSW Government authorities to regulate land use, water allocation, land rehabilitation, spray use and the visual impact of netting.

This motion was being considered to be put forward to the National General Assembly of Local Government conference in Canberra in June.

This was followed by a notice of motion by councillor Sally Townley for farmers to require a development application for intensive plant agricultural developments to address land use conflict.

Clear and concise, Australian Blueberry Growers Association vice-president Gurmesh Singh and NSW Farmers Association member Paul Shoker together opened proceedings and spoke against both motions.

Mr Singh said the blueberry industry hired about 6000 people a year, with 2000 being local and up to 4000 being backpackers taken on for the harvest.

He said horticulture contributed $250million to the economic benefit of about $1.5billion generated by Coffs Coast agriculture.

Mr Shoker said the council had little understanding of the industry, as he pointed out no councillors relied solely on farming as an income.

"In recognising that agriculture is such a specialist field, my understanding is that none of the councillors here are primary producers in a sense they earn 100% of income from primary production," he said.

Mr Shoker said this was where many misunderstandings arose.

What followed proved his point - councillors mulled over the two motions for more than two hours, going back and forth with numerous amendments to both motions.

Cr Townley said a crisis point was approaching in relation to land use conflict.

This sentiment was shared by Cr Knight, who said there had been a large number of complaints to the council in the past 10 years.

The two motions were met with heavy debate, but a number of councillors pointed out there was a lack of information surrounding the issues and more consultation was needed in the future.

Cr Townley's original notice of motion for "intensive plant agriculture" requiring a development application was amended by councillor John Arkan, who presented three points.

Cr Arkan's amended motion asked the council to:

  • Await the finish of the Rural Land Strategy and Local Growth Management Strategy Review;
  • Allow the Coffs Harbour S355 Community Committee to discuss the matters with State Government agencies; and,
  • Request council staff produce a report reflecting issues associated with Coffs Harbour's horticulture industry.

Councillors voted in support of the motion 6-3.

The first motion submitted by Cr Knight was also supported 5-4.

Both votes were met with applause from the gallery.

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