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A win for the rural gentry
Russell Degnan

Although the proportions vary, around all cities, there are normally three ways of living. The 'know-your-neighbour' of the inner city, the 'englishman's home is his castle' of the suburbs, and the one I've never really understood - opulent though it may be: that of the rural gentry.

Melbourne has always had these houses. Set in large gardens, or semi- native forest, they sit on the edge of town until the suburbs come and surround them. The most opulent - at say Como House, or the Werribee Mansion - retain some of their gardens and their grandeur. Others - and there are many scattered around - seem to be merely older houses, on slightly larger (or slightly too small) blocks amongst a sub-division.

However, they were to become no more. Under a proposal to change rural zoning, lots under 40 hectares*, second dwellings on farms, and excisions of lots from farms would have been banned. This was to stop prime farmland being subdivided into large 'lifestyle' lots outside the urban growth boundary.

Well, last Saturday, Stateline on the ABC had a program on the confusion, and anger that this has wrought in the farming community. Yesterday the government backed down on those changes while still (as always) trying to claim they were in control:

Ms Delahunty said the re-worked farming zones "acknowledged the benefits of protecting farmers' rights to farm" and prevented ad hoc subdivision of Victoria's agricultural land.


Ms Delahunty said yesterday's concessions would not undermine the broad thrust of the reforms, but that "existing rights" would continue under the new zoning arrangements, meaning property owners would be able to seek a permit for a dwelling on lots less that 40 hectares, for a second dwelling, and to excise one lot with a dwelling.

Ms. Delahunty loves using the word "ad hoc"+. Have you noticed?

But I digress. The key point here is that people will always want to use the land for what is most profitable. Farmers with less than 40 hectares are not going to be profitable - unless they are growing something sinful, like, grapes, or opium. They need to either consolidate the land or sell to someone from the city. By not disallowing the latter, the practise of changing land on the outskirts of Melbourne to semi-rural landlots will continue.

On the plus side, as this article discusses in relation to the United States. Kilometer after kilometer of semi-suburban/semi-native landlots may be great for smaller wildlife - which Australia has in abundance.

* For those wondering, 40 hectares is 400,000m2, or roughly the size of the Botanic Gardens.

+ It is a fascinating word actually, two (complementary) definitions:

Adj. 1. ad hoc - often improvised or impromptu; "an ad hoc committee meeting"
2. ad hoc - for or concerned with one specific purpose; "a coordinated policy instead of ad hoc decisions"

Of course, because we have a planning framework, the only person with the power to make an ad hoc decision, is Mary Delahunty. Unless, as is possible, she believes that the zones allow too much freedom to use your land as you see fit, or, as is also possible, the planning system is hopelessly inadequate to implement a strategic policy.

Every planning decision that goes to VCAT has to be ad hoc to someone - otherwise, why is it being arbitrated. Perhaps Ms Delahunty defines it as "any decision I disagree with", in which case, I direct her to this famous movie quote:

Inigo: [looking confused] You keep using that word? I do not think it means what you think it means...

Planning 11th March, 2004 12:38:26   [#] 


The Castle
I always fancied the castle outside Holbrook on the Hume highway to Sydney. It was far to close to a filling station and the road for its grandeur to fulfil its full potential, but it was a landmark I liked to look out for on our many trips to see my grandma.
BridgeGirl  12th March, 2004 08:44:46  

Gembrook - a study in practice
An interesting issue which is related to this is what has occurred in Gembrook (in the Dandenongs).

Most of the farming land in Gembrook was traditionally used for potato farming. However, in the early 90's (I think) the area was hit by PCN, a virus that affects potatoes. When a PCN outbreak is found, the area is ‘quarantined’ by banning the sale of potatoes from that area for a certain period of time after tha last positive test for PCN. Each state administers this quarantine, and some states still refuse to accept potatoes grown in Gembrook although PCN has not been reported for a number of years.

This obviously had a direct impact on farmers because they were unable to sell their crops. Also, state government regulations prohibited them from subdividing their land to a size that would be suitable for either people wishing to indulge in a country lifestyle (i..e move from the city and build ‘a nice house in the country’) or those who wished to farm things that would be profitable on smaller lots (and I think despite Russ’s sin theory, there are plenty of crops viable on smaller lots, including things such as lavender, berries and other niche markets).

So the farmers were (and continue to be) caught in a tough position. Their land allotments of between about 80 and 200 acres were a great size for potatoes (but not much else as they either needed much more land or had too much). However they couldn’t grow potatoes. And they couldn’t sell their land because no one wanted that much land that they essentially couldn’t use (except not grow potatoes) and they couldn’t subdivide their land into what would be termed ‘rural living blocks’ as the government wouldn’t allow it. It is interesting to note that governments of both persuasions failed to come to any sensible resolution on this, but that hardly seems surprising given the two ministers they dealt with were in that time were Rob Maclellan and Mary Delahunty.

In essence it probably backs the (well, ok, my) theory that grand schemes of one size fits all state imposed planning rarely work.
Pearcey  12th March, 2004 14:08:10  


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