A proposal to require development applications for intensive agriculture has been rejected by the majority of Coffs Harbour City Councillors.
A proposal to require development applications for intensive agriculture has been rejected by the majority of Coffs Harbour City Councillors.

Dev App proposal for farms rejected by Councillors

A proposal to require development applications for intensive agriculture has been rejected by the majority of Coffs Harbour City Councillors.

After years of debating the topic and consulting the community a draft strategy to guide the future of intensive plant agriculture was up for discussion at the recent Coffs Harbour City Council meeting.

As anticipated debate boiled down to the requirement for DAs (development applications) as set out within the draft Coffs Harbour Local Growth Management Strategy - Chapter 5 Rural Lands.

Director of the NSW Farmers Association and local farmer Paul Shoker was scheduled to address the meeting but due to the coronavirus crises his statement was read out on his behalf.

He urged Councillors not to support the requirement for DAs describing the sector as a major pillar of the community with its economic value exceeding that of the tourism industry.

"Recent events have highlighted how fragile our economy can be and the top of the list is food security.

"We've repeatedly expressed opposition to measures that place development controls on intensive plant agriculture."

He agreed that more work needed to be done on reducing nutrient run off from farms but spoke about the value of the industry to the economy as a whole, and the willingness of farmers to compromise.

"There is much more to achieve going forward and now is not the time to impose extra layers of regulatory burden.

"The visual impact of white netting has been raised on a number of occasions with local suppliers working towards phasing it out."

Director of the NSW Farmers Association and local farmer Paul Shoker said farmers are moving towards phasing out white netting.
Director of the NSW Farmers Association and local farmer Paul Shoker said farmers are moving towards phasing out white netting.

Others, including Caroline Joseph from the Bellingen Environment Centre, argued that Councillors needed to act to protect environmental and public health.

"One of blueberry industry's catch cries is the economic importance to the region. So with all that money to be made farmers will plant to the very edge of their properties. We need buffers and regulations in place - a number of schools have direct boundaries, one school has had to plant their own buffer.

"Intensive plant agriculture needs to be included within the development framework. Somehow at present it falls outside this process and neighbours have no formal legal source of redress - they face chemical exposure and loss of property values. We acknowledged the economic stimulus from the industry; but if the environmental outcome is poisoned landscapes was it worth it ?"

The Bonville Primary School P and C has received funds from Council to plant a buffer to protect students from spray drift from a nearby farm.
The Bonville Primary School P and C has received funds from Council to plant a buffer to protect students from spray drift from a nearby farm.

Councillor Sally Townley argued to keep the DA requirements within the strategy asking: what do we have to lose ?

"Why not? some people have suggested a reason for opposing it is because it costs money but the fees are quite modest.

"All this DA proposal is asking farmers for is 'show us you have a farm plan to provide best practice'. We know for a fact that farms are causing off-farm impacts; we're not just banging on about it - we know that and we have independent advice that says so."

Other Councillors including Paul Amos argued that the industry was almost at capacity (approximately 95 per cent established) and any new regulation would not be retrospective and therefore largely ineffectual.

When put to the vote only Clr Townley and Mayor Denise Knight voted to keep the DA requirement within the policy.

Crs Michael Adendorff, Paul Amos, George Cecato, Keith Rhoades and Tegan Swan supported an alternative motion which included the following key points:

- Adopt Coffs Harbour Local Growth Management Strategy - Chapter 5 Rural Lands subject to the deletion of the action to "amend Coffs Harbour LEP 2013 to require consent for intensive plant agriculture within Zone RU2 Rural Landscape."

- Allocate additional resources to assist the State Government and the intensive agricultural industry by supportive monitoring in the areas of water quality, water usage and illegal clearing.



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