A lengthy debate took place at the last Tweed Shire Council planning meeting (5 May) around the issue of agritourism controls that ran the gamut of opting in, opting out, and then seeking urgent clarification on the proposed state legislation.
The NSW State government is asking councils to opt-in or opt-out of the proposed Agritourism and small-scale agriculture development State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP). The SEPP says it seeks to ‘support farm businesses and regional economies’ and ‘to better enable “agritourism” and small-scale agricultural development to be approved’.
If a council opts into the SEPP then it amends its LEP (local environment plan) according to whatever the state’s SEPP contains.
To facilitate discussion on the matter the council suspended standing orders.
‘Opt-in’ with qualifications
Opening the debate on the issue of whether Tweed Shire Council should ‘opt-in’ Tweed Mayor Chris Cherry (Independent) told the meeting she was ‘finding it very complicated and finding it difficult to work out what the implications are of this item’.
‘The big problem for me is that we haven’t had time to talk to the community about it at all. We did want to go out on public exhibition but we weren’t been able to. So we now have to provide an answer back to the State government without having talked to our community about these particular proposed changes. That makes me quite nervous quite frankly.’
However, Mayor Cherry went on to propose the council ‘opt-in’ with five additional objectives to be included for the Tweed Shire.’
One point was taken from the wording from the BSC resolution when they put it through.
‘What I’m putting forward here is that we do opt into the optional clauses of the farmstay accommodation and the farmgate premises. I do want us to add in some additional local clauses that make this more relevant to us,’ she explained.
‘The most important thing is that we recognise the changes, we do support the State government in making more things permissible in terms of our agricultural areas. We are very much on the same page as the State government that we want to make sure that that is very much linked to the primary production uses of our agricultural land. That is what the legislation is trying to do, it is trying to support local farmers by allowing them, in conjunction with their primary production, have things like farm tours, tasting, horse riding, things that relate to their farm activities.’
Risk of rural weddings and festivals?
Councillor Dr Noal Firth (Greens) raised a number of concerns around the idea of opting into the SEPP when the exempt and complying codes were not clearly understood and that there had been no opportunity for the community to comment.
‘I am quite concerned about this whole issue. It seems to me that this is a significant change to our LEP. I’m very concerned that we are doing without community consultation,’ said Cr Firth.
‘It is going to quite clearly increase the intensity of rural land. And I am particularly concerned about the RU1 land. I think we are going to have people in the community who have moved into RU1 land who wanted to be away from that kind of thing, who didn’t want noise, who didn’t want to have functions near them, they didn’t want weddings, they didn’t want festivals, and yet they are going to have it imposed on them without any consultation whatsoever.
‘The lack of clarity about what is likely to be happening is what really concerns me… We have got these exempt and complying initiatives that are going to come later. If we opt-in, we are saying we only want to do it with consent, but what if the state says you’ve opted in and that’s it? I don’t think we are going to be in any position to do anything about that. That really worries me a lot.
‘We don’t even know exactly what those exempt and complying conditions are. They have given us some ideas but then they might change them, and we might be stuck.’
When standing orders were resumed Cr Firth proposed an amendment for the council to ‘opt-out’ of the SEPP. This was lost with five votes against, Cr Nola Firth for, and Cr Reece Byrnes (Deputy Mayor) absent.
Last-minute clarification changes decision
This took the discussion back to the opt-in motion originally put by Mayor Cr Cherry.
Council’s Director Planning and Regulation Vince Connell said that he believed that the standard practice for the state government would be to exhibit the draft changes.
‘We are making some general presumptions in good faith about the government’s intent to publicly exhibit those draft changes and get community input. Can I suggest another point of your original motion that we as a council seek some form of written commitment from the government that the will be a public exhibition of future [changes].’
During the subsequent debate, Mr Connell received an email (at 3.52pm) from a senior State government planning officer clarifying that they ‘are not proposing to exhibit the code SEPP amendments’.
‘Considering that this advice has just come through. It does concern me now,’ Mr Connell told the meeting.
‘I was of the opinion that there would be a public exhibition of the code SEPP. It would be a fair process given the concerns raised.’
Mr Connell suggested that they change direction with the motion and ‘that we have an urgent meeting with a senior department person or higher, to gain clarity before we make our decision as a council on the opt-in. It does concern me, that advice,’ he said.
Mayor Charry, as the mover of the motion, was not able to amend it so it came back to Cr Firth to again put an alternative motion that was seconded by councillor Meredith Dennis (Independent).
The amendment sought an ‘urgent meeting to clarify the State Governments intent as to whether they will publicly exhibit the proposed exempt and complying development provisions’ and to defer Tweed Council’s decision on whether to opt-into the SEPP. This motion was passed, all in favour.
‘RECOMMENDED that Council in respect of the State Government’s Draft Amendment to the Standard LEP Instrument, relating to agritourism controls: 1. Writes to the Department of Planning and Environment and seek an urgent meeting to clarify the State Governments intent as to whether they will publicly exhibit the proposed exempt and complying development provisions. 2. Identify that Council is extremely concerned about the advancement of these draft provisions without further public exhibition and community input. 3. That Council seeks to defer its decision of whether to opt-in to the current LEP clauses and permissibility until clearer direction is provided by the Department in respect of points 2 and 3.