The state government is ramming through an ‘agritourism’ policy which effectively removes restrictions on tourism development on rural lands, ignoring the objections of local councils and the impact on surrounding landowners.
In a thinly veiled attempt to curry favour with the National Party’s rapidly eroding voter base ahead of the upcoming election, the government is creating a series of ‘development pathways’ for agriculture-related tourism operations.
This will significantly reduce restrictions and scrutiny of the development of so-called ‘farm experience premises’, ‘farm gate premises’ and ‘farm stay accommodation’.
These developments will be able to proceed through a streamlined process that effectively sidelines local councils and neighbours wishing to object.
The government says agritourism presents a multi-billion-dollar opportunity for the NSW economy, and has declared that the policy will be in place by December 23.
But the policy is now effectively being forced through without any chance for local councils to adapt the provisions to the particular needs of their communities.
Having originally given councils the opportunity to nuance or opt out of aspects of the proposed policy, the NSW Department of Planning then suddenly changed tack, coming back with a rigid policy that effectively removed this nomination process.
‘I do not accept that this has been a transparent or fair way to implement such a significant statewide planning policy, given the implications that these state-imposed land-use changes will have on rural lands in the Byron Shire,’ Byron Mayor Michael Lyon said in a mayoral minute objecting to the policy.
‘It is questionable just how ‘low impact or straightforward’ the land use types that the DPE has defined as exempt or complying agritourism development will be in the Byron Shire’.
Enforcement burden upon Council
‘Further, we know from experience that the enforcement burden for these land-use changes will fall back onto Council, without any funds for the additional resourcing it is likely to require.’
In Byron, current planning controls that are in place for weddings, events, cellar-door premises, and holiday accommodation on rural lands will be overridden by the new policy.
These controls were written in an attempt to balance the interests of tourism and event organisers with the needs of surrounding residents, who were being significantly impacted by the Shire’s already burgeoning agritourism industry.
Developments considered ‘exempt’ can be carried out without the need for planning or building approval if it meets specified development standards and doesn’t require notification of Council or neighbours.
In his Mayoral minute, to be debated at this week’s Council meeting, Cr Lyon moved that Council ‘opt out’ of the new provisions until it conducts its own review of where they could be appropriate.
He also moved that Council formally objects to ‘Agritourism’, ‘Farm experience premises’ and ‘Farm gate premises’ and ‘Farm stay accommodation’ being made permissible anywhere in the shire’s Local Environment Plans. However, should this policy be passed by Council, it is uncertain whether it will be permitted by the state government, given that it has effectively removed the option for councils to opt out of certain aspects of the policy.
Retraction: This story previously contained the following quote from the NSW Small Business Commissioner’s website: ‘As NSW farmers experience another severe drought affecting 100 per cent of the State, agritourism offers another avenue to keep farmers on the farm and jobs in the regions’.
This quote was out of date and should not have been included in the story. The Echo retracts this quote.