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September 28, 2023

Bellingen has eco-village pilot project in its sights  

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From the Proposed Planning Framework for Regenerative Village Pilot Project. Prepared for Bellingen Shire Council by PolisPlan. Image polisplan.com.au.

Bellingen Council has been developing an eco-village pilot project over the past few years.

One of the consultants for the project, Dr Steven Liaros, told The Echo that the project ‘could inform new approaches to mainstream housing policy’, and that ‘it is not difficult to transfer the same framework to other councils, or to include it in the Housing SEPP (State Environmental Planning Policy).’

Dr Liaros, from town planning consultancy PolisPlan, and affiliated with the University of Sydney, has expertise in civil engineering, town planning, environmental law and political economy.

He said, ‘After a submission by us during public consultation, Bellingen adopted their Housing Strategy in 2020, which included an action to do an eco-village pilot project’.

State government funding

‘In November 2021, we received some state government funding to set up the planning policy framework for the pilot project.

‘Through 2022, we worked with Council staff and reported our recommended planning framework to the elected Council in November.

‘We are currently developing the business plan and financial strategy. We are confident it will show how this approach is feasible and also much more affordable than mainstream housing.

‘To overcome the inertia of doing things as they’ve always been done, we have to promote other options that the community wants. 

‘If there is groundswell of community support and demand for such alternatives, then I’m sure we can make it happen because there is a clear strategy, policy framework and financial feasibility’.

A description of the concept, available at polisplan.com.au, describes it as ‘…a network of high-tech, regenerative villages that strive towards self-sufficiency and zero waste within their bioregion’. 

Network of villages

‘Each village will house a diverse community of up to 200 people and will integrate affordable co-working and co-living spaces with water and energy micro-grids and a regenerative agricultural system.’

According to the November 23, 2022 Council minutes, there are ‘remaining issues to be clarified around rating and land titles’.

The Eco-Village Pilot Project Feasibility Investigations motion also says a further report will be presented to Council.

The next process, Dr Liaros says, involves securing a suitable site from a willing landowner, ‘then comes the formal planning proposal, detailed design and amending the LEP’.

He says there is one regenerative farmer who has shown interest in the proposal, and has sufficient land. ‘To house 200 people, we need 100 acres of rural land’, he said.

As for ‘rating and land titles’ being established, he says they are not big obstacles. ‘Council will work this out with the Office of Local Government, but the general principle is to have equity with other landowners in the local government area’.

Additionally, the proposal will involve a Community Land Trust, something that Byron Council has considered in the past.

Dr Liaros added that ‘this must be a collective effort with clear roles for the community, Council, state government, investors and various experts to play’. 

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