Lismore farmers may soon be able to ‘age in place’ if the state government approves a new LEP amendment passed at last night’s council meeting.
The change would allow for detached dual occupancy and boundary adjustments in RU1 Primary Production zones, similar to the rules that currently permit the construction of granny flats in urban areas.
Only the Greens’ councillor Ekins voted against the amendment, saying she believed it was subdivision by stealth.
Julie Rhodes of Eltham Valley Pantry used public access time to show her support of the LEP amendment and criticised the current situation.
‘The existing rural house entitlement of one house per one hundred acres of farmland is based on an old English dairy farm standard and has consequently lost relevance for today’s Lismore local government area (LGA),’ Ms Rhodes said.
‘It is really important to distinguish between subdivision and an additional construction of a dwelling, as subdivision of rural land can lead to fragmentation and rural land use conflict.’
Ms Rhodes acknowledged ageing farmers would be the main beneficiaries of the amendment.
‘Many farmers are ageing and considering leaving the land,’ she said. ‘The additional housing entitlement will allow more family members to live on the farm and take over the farming enterprise without parents having to leave the farm for aged care. The opportunity to transition the management of the farm will be less likely to result in fragmentation of rural lands and the continuation of farming and food production.
Cr Ekins argued that farm succession was not behind the community’s desire for additional dwellings and that income was the main driver.
‘I went to all the Imagine Lismore consultations and it seemed to me that supplementary income or not wanting to share the house with the kids was the reason for the extra house; it was not about continuing farming operations at all.
‘One of the things that I – and the visitors to this area – love is the paddocks. In the 20 years I have been here, more houses are starting to appear along the road; now it is like ribbon development. If this is approved, we will see so many more houses.
‘I think it is a very informal type of subdivision. We are putting more houses on farms, which our last LEP prevented us from doing.
‘Okay, so people are ageing and want to age on their farms. So what do we do when age? We have to go somewhere or convince family to look after us. So why is it different for the farming community?’ Cr Ekins asked.
LCC’s strategic planning coordinator Paula Newman acknowledged that the Imagine Lismore consultation indicated that people enjoyed the rural character and the natural environment but added that ‘dual occupancy is already permitted in rural zones, but at present they need to be attached’.
In response to Cr Ekins’s comments about outcomes of the Imagine Lismore process, Cr Neil Marks said he perceived them differently.
‘Imagine Lismore was the most important consultation that this council has ever done,’ he said. ‘I heard people saying they needed their family to come and help work the property or have people come in and help.’
Cr Simon Clough supported the proposal but failed to move an amendment that would limit any dominant ridgeline development.
‘Nothing destroys the rural landscape faster than building on ridgelines,’ said Cr Clough.
Although Cr Marks agreed, he told Council that ‘most farmhouses that you see are already on the ridgelines. Most of these houses have been built near the roads, which are mostly built on the ridgeline. If we are asking people to build within a hundred metres of the main dwelling, then it will be on the ridgeline.’
Cr Greg Bennett added that ‘usually the worst agricultural land is on the ridgeline, so dwelling construction is not compromising the best agricultural land’.
Income streams for farmers weighed in on the debate as Cr Bennett said, ‘… farming income is not rising; it hasn’t risen for decades. So having the extra income means that some farms may stay viable. So if you want to maintain the way our rural areas look, this is one way we can help.’
Lismore City Council (LCC) will now await a state government gateway determination to allow the planning proposal to amend the Lismore Local Environment Plan (LEP) 2012.