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Byron Shire
March 7, 2021

Should secondary dwellings be allowed on small rural properties?

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Some rural landowners and farmers are concerned over land use conflicts between active farms and their neighbours if dual occupancy is allowed on smaller lots. Photo supplied.

Aslan Shand

The Tweed Shire Council has won two categories in the New South Wales Awards for Planning Excellence for their Rural Land Strategy (RLS) and the Kingscliff Locality Plan and Development Control Plan. However, there are some residents and councillors who have been struggling against the restrictions placed on secondary dwellings on smaller rural lots as part of the RLS.

‘The Kingscliff Locality Plan and Development Control Plan took out the Public Engagement and Community Planning category at the virtual ceremony on 27 November. The Rural Land Strategy was also recognised as a Hard Won Victory after Council adopted the Strategy in May this year following an extensive seven year development process,’ said a spokesperson for the NSW Planning Institute of Australia awards.

‘The Rural Land Strategy won the Hard Won Victory Award which recognises projects that have applied innovative solutions and use of planning tools and techniques to address challenges, resulting in significant community benefits. The judges commended the balanced approach taken by Tweed Shire Council to establish a strategy that is considerate of a range of attitudes and expectations and commended Council given its challenges.’

Mayor of Tweed Council Chris Cherry (Independent) told The Echo that, ‘It was great to see the Rural Land Strategy recognised at a state level for planning excellence. As Councillors we are always trying to find that middle ground to balance the needs of all of the community.’

The DPI is recommending a precautionary approach to rural land use to reduce land use conflict. Photo supplied.

Council split

That middle road has been in contention with Councillors Waren Polglse and Pryce Allsop (conservative) putting forward a Rural Housing Proposal to the 22 October council meeting that would allow detached dual occupancy dwellings of any size to be built on rural properties of less than ten hectares.

At the meeting the casting vote of James Owen (Liberal) sent the motion to a workshop for further discussion.

‘On Friday (27 November) we held the workshop, with all Councillors, on the best way forward,’ Mayor Cherry told The Echo.

‘It really seems that going ahead with the Implementation Plan [as part of the RLS], is the way we are going to achieve concrete changes to help improve opportunities for farmers in the Tweed, rather than diving in and allowing a free for all. As we see in Lismore and Byron Shires, it is very difficult to wind back what people can do on their land, so it makes sense to go forward in steps allowing secondary dwellings on the larger lots first and then we can always increase the permissibility to smaller lots in the future.’

However, Councillor Allsop said that rural residents are up in arms over the decision not to allow detached secondary dwellings on lots smaller than 10ha.

‘They think they should be given the opportunity to make those lands fruitful and they are looking to use the land to create an income,’ said Councillor Allsop.

‘The reality is most farmers have a second job to support farm income. The price of farm equipment is enormous and you need it to be competitive. Some of our rural land just has native tress on it. The question is what are we trying to achieve with this land, and how do we make viable for landowners?

‘This is the thing about Tweed – we have a massive amount of trees. One of the biggest problems is camphor and the damage to our waterways and the ecosystems in the waterways. How are farmers supposed to control these and other weeds on just their farm incomes?’

Tweed Councillor James Owen.

Land use conflict

A big issue for many farmers and rural landowners is land use conflict which all councillors recognised.

‘We have heard a lot from two groups of how they want a large second house permitted on any size lot in rural lands, but do people really want their neighbours to be able to build a big house right next to them when they thought they had bought a house away from other people? ,’ says Mayor Cherry.

‘We have to remember half of our rural lands are already cut up into blocks 3 Ha or less, so the idea of having more houses on each of those could have a real impact on peoples lifestyle and the ability to use them for agriculture. We have agritourism businesses here in the Tweed Shire that have set up knowing they have no neighbours living near them to and they have expressed to us they are really worried about future noise conflicts if Council allows secondary dwellings on every lot near them. There are definitely two sides to this story and we are getting pressure from both sides.’

Tweed Shire Mayor Chris Cherry.

Going to the vote

The motion will come before next weeks council meeting and Councillor James Owen has told The Echo that while landowners should have the right to reasonable activities on their land a careful approach needs to be taken.

‘There is no rush – we need to get this right,’ he said.

‘To make any more changes to the RLS we need to take a strategic and precautionary approach and this is what we’ve been told from the Department of Planning and Industry (DPI).

‘At the workshop it became clear that what is and isn’t permitted in rural zone is confusing even among councillors.’

Mayor Cherry also agreed that the precautionary approach was the right way to move forward.

‘The Rural Land Strategy is about moving forward in a strategic and precautionary way. Council wants to look at how this works first before jumping in with a new house on every rural lot. It’s easy to go forward, but it is very hard to go backward on a policy position like this.’

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