Ballina Shire residents in Alstonville and Wollongbar are worried about a proposal to erode the green belt between their two villages.
Ballina Council recently exhibited their 2022 Sustainable Urban Growth Area Review (SUGAR). This included a provision to evaluate the potential for land adjoining the Russellton Industrial Estate to the east to enable industrial development.
The two lots in question include 23 hectares of land mapped as Farmland of State Significance, within the green buffer that separates the villages of Alstonville and Wollongbar.
Marilyn Perkins from the Wollongbar Progress Association says the buffer exists because of decades of ‘major efforts’ from residents from both communities to keep the villages distinct, with their own unique identities.
She told The Echo that plateau communities have fought against a number of attempts at incursion into this area, including previous strategic plans.
Wollongbar Progress Association’s Submission on the new SUGAR argues that, ‘Given global issues around food production and food supply and sustainability, the rezoning of prime quality agricultural land is not in the best interests of our community; in fact, such an action could be interpreted as reckless.
‘Concerned locals are encouraging councillors to defer this decision on the above-mentioned lots for at least a decade, then revisit under circumstances existing at that time. Newly elected councillors are not aware of the significance of this parcel of farmland, or of the history of the green belt.’
Speaking for Alstonville, local Paul Earner said the plan was to nearly double the size of the Russellton Industrial Estate, seriously impacting the green belt between Alstonville and Wollongbar.
He said exploiting the buffer zone as a ‘convenient land bank’ goes against all the principles of Alstonville Plateau planning since the 1980s.
‘Once this long held principle is broken, the easy option solution to planning difficulties is even easier.
‘To use State Significant Farmland for non-reversible non-agricultural purposes should be a last resort when all other alternatives have been proven impossible. The level of proof for “no other alternatives” should be very high.’
Mr Earner argues that there are other options to buy time and space for further planning consideration, including nine hectares of vacant land at Russellton Industrial Estate (which is already zoned Industrial), three hectares of similar land at Southern Cross Industrial Estate, and additional non-State Significant Farmland under investigation near Ross Lane.
He said ‘This 23 ha of State Significant Farmland, with zoning designed to be a visual and geographical barrier between Alstonville and Wollongbar… will crowd the villages, and be sub-optimal planning.’
Ron Birch from Wollongbar says the process used by Ballina Shire Council to date has been flawed.
‘When councillors are called to make a decision on this move to rezone important farmland for industrial purposes, they may read that a significant number of locals did not object to this rezone plan in the Wollongbar Strategic Plan Survey. However, the survey question was framed in such a way that did not indicate any green belt incursion, or the designation of the land in question, in such rezoning.
‘Respondents were asked their view on consideration of the easterly expansion of the Russellton Industrial Estate to provide an additional 23ha of industrial land and many supported this, because there was no mention that the land was mapped as State Significant Farmland, or of buffer incursion.’
Mr Birch argues that growing food security issues mean State Significant Farmland should be protected wherever possible.
His submission to Ballina Council concludes by saying, ‘Given the long history of strong community support for the continued preservation of high quality agricultural land as a green belt between the two plateau villages of Alstonville and Wollongbar, and the strategic importance of such high quality farmland, council does not have a remit to begin the rezoning process on 23 hectares of high quality agricultural land within the environmental urban buffer at Russellton Industrial Estate.’
With many businesses in Lismore and beyond looking at moving higher, it seems clear that pressures on flood-free land throughout the Northern Rivers will steadily increase.