Yarra Ranges Shire proposed planning scheme amendment C148

Thursday, 1 December, 2016
Author: 
Green Wedge Coalition

The Green Wedge Coalition sees one of the major threats to the future of the Green Wedges as being a ‘death by a thousand cuts’. This refers to increasing evidence of planning applications that seek to enable uses that tip the balance from an open rural landscape to an urban built environment.

Each individual planning application may seem relatively innocuous but the cumulative impact of many similar planning decisions over time will see the loss of the Green Wedges.

The Green Wedge Coalition has a major concern about the proposed amendment putting in place a policy setting that enables increased residential development in the Yarra Ranges Green Wedge.

Maintaining the ‘openness’ is fundamental to the future of the Green Wedges. The Melbourne approach was modelled on the British traditional of green belts that started with the greater London Plan and saw the first statutory green belt in the UK introduced in 1955. The UK National Planning Policy Framework describes the fundamental aim of green belt policy as being to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open and that the essential characteristics of green belts are their openness and permanence.”

The vision for Melbourne’s Green Wedges was driven by Sir Rupert Hamer who as the local government minister in the late 1960’s directed the MMBW, the planning authority at the time, that in planning for the future of Melbourne that “nobody could happily contemplate a future metropolis of seemingly endless suburbia spreading out to infinity and that it must be strongly emphasised that the future planning should take account of the surrounding countryside as a vital part of the metropolitan environment”

In the Yarra Ranges, the Upper Yarra Valley & Dandenong Ranges Regional Strategy Plan (RSP) is a major planning instrument to protect the values of the Yarra Ranges Green Wedge. The Planning & Environment Act requires any proposed planning amendments to comply with the RSP. This does not stop change but means the controls cannot fall below the baseline set by the RSP. The RSP explicitly talks about controls being able to have “more restrictive land use, development or subdivision management controls” and requires council to ensure the incremental effects of individual changes … do not prejudice the primary purposes and policies of the policy areas.

The proposed amendment C148 clearly has several major conflicts with the RSP and particularly the RSP primary purpose which is protection of the special features of the region, enhancement of the Shire’s biodiversity and limiting residential development outside the UGB.

There are a number of broad areas of concern. This submission from the Green Wedge Coalition focuses on the issue of the potential for the proposed amendment to increase residential development in the Yarra Ranges Green Wedge. The issues relating to the proposed changes to the Environmental Significance Overlays (ESO) and Landscape Significance Overlays are equally important and are the subject in detail of other submissions from other GWC member organisations.

Issue: Increased residential development in the Green Wedge

It is our contention that the proposed change to the Municipal Strategic Statement (MSS) as exhibited will enable future land use and development that will result in greatly increased residential development outside the UGB destroying the primary values that are fundamental to the future of the Yarra Ranges Green Wedge.

The aims of the UYVDR RSP should be restated in the MSS, particularly

  • Contain urban development to a level compatible with conservation of the region’s rich environmental features and its high standards of amenity.
  • Ensure that rural land in the region is protected and maintained for agricultural and rural activities and that rural landscapes are protected and maintained.

Proposed Clause 21.01 Vision

In Clauses 21.01-2 Key issues and influences and 21.01-3 Vision and Strategic vision reference is continually made to ‘productive’ agriculture. The term ‘productive’ should be removed for the purposes of this clause as it could be interpreted as inaccurately limiting the use of the term agriculture land use to those areas considered as being commercial full time farming where agriculture is the major source of income for the landholder. Agricultural activities are typically a continuum from fully commercial to lifestyler, supporting land uses that meet the purposes of the Green Wedge zones.

This Clause proposes to describe for the Green Wedges ‘a diverse mosaic of productive agriculture, rural lifestyle opportunities and bushland areas’. This description should be replaced with rewording that clearly maintains the regional objectives from the Regional Strategy Plan that seeks to ensure (inter alia):

  • the continuation of  the rural land uses primarily for farming purposes, and other uses compatible with farming.
  • The use of land in a manner that is sustainable and conducive to the maintenance of farming options and opportunities into the future.
  • The protection and management of native vegetation for its intrinsic values, as a fauna habitat and a valuable visual component of  the rural landscapes, and for its value for soil conservation, maintenance of water yields and quality and contribution towards reducing the Greenhouse Effect.
  • That all land use and development  are compatible with the maintenance of rural landscapes, character and atmosphere.

Proposed Clause 21.03 Green Wedge

21.03-1 Overview

The MSS does recognise the primary values of the Yarra Ranges Green Wedges as being: maintaining a healthy biodiversity; protecting valued rural landscapes; and supporting sustainable agriculture. The maintenance of these attributes to date has been the result of planning provisions that control land use and development based on protecting soil based agricultural land use and protecting the natural environmental assets of the region.

The Overview acknowledges that:

The approval of the Upper Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges Regional Strategy Plan in 1982 led to the introduction of a strict regime of subdivision control which limited the further subdivision of rural land.

And that

Despite the extent of earlier rural lot subdivision and fragmentation of large landholding, the Yarra Ranges Green Wedge has retained a strong rural character and still supports a significant agricultural sector.

We believe this confirms that the existing Regional Strategy Plan is an effective planning instrument that must be maintained.

21.03-2 Green Wedge land use categories

The MSS identifies three categories of land use and settlement, being:

  • Productive agricultural areas
  • Rural landscape areas
  • Rural residential areas

The identification of ‘Productive agricultural areas’ is highly problematic.

There is no definition of productive agricultural land in the planning scheme. The definition of agriculture is:

Land used to:

a) Propagate, cultivate or harvest plants, including cereals, flowers, fruit, seeds, trees, turf, and vegetables;

b) Keep, breed, board, or train animals, including livestock, and birds; or

c) Propagate, cultivate, rear, or harvest living resources of the sea or inland waters.

It is probable that most of the land in the Yarra Ranges Green Wedge is capable of supporting some form of productive agriculture.

Both the ‘Rural landscape areas’ and ‘Rural residential areas’ are described in the proposed amendment as having most lots used for residential purposes in a rural or heavily treed setting. This identification of residential development as a major land use in the Green Wedges is totally contrary to the purpose of the both the GWZ and RCZ. It is inconsistent with the provisions for minimum lot sizes in GWZ and RCZ with:

  • GWZ Schedules ranging from a minimum lot size of 6 ha to 40ha.
  • RCZ Schedules ranging from 30-50ha.

In the GWZ1 with a minimum lot size of 6ha, these lots sizes are large enough to be ‘anything from commercial farms (intensive agriculture) to part-time farmers or hobby farmers/ lifestylers’ where rural activities still dominate the land use.

The GWAZ does recognise existing residential development and has minimum lot sizes of 1 ha for Schedule 1 and 3ha for Schedule 2 but the purpose of this zone still focuses on maintaining land use and development that maintains and protects rural values.

This issue is fundamental to the whole way in which this proposed amendment inappropriately characterisies the purpose and future of the Green Wedge in the Shire.

This clause should instead identify and promote the forms of land use and development that will maintain the values of the Green Wedge.

These are:

Commercial farming

Where agriculture is the major source of income for the landholder

Part-time farming

Where the farm is operated on a sound commercial basis but supplement the household income by other non-farm work

Green commercial farming

Same as commercial farming but with a strong conservation focus (e.g. organics)

Hybrid farming

Combining farming in conjunction with other ventures (e.g. tourism, value adding)

Hobby farm lifestyler

Not dependent on agricultural income but enjoy some grazing, cropping for hay or some other form of agriculture.

Green lifestyler

Not dependent on agricultural income and with a strong conservation ethos (e.g. bushland conservation)

Horse lifestyler

Have horses for recreational purposes.

The rural land use categories should be consistent with the RSP and maintain the focus on:

  • Intensive agriculture (e.g. commercial farming)
  • Rural landscape (a range of farming and lifestylers)
  • Rural conservation (green lifestyler)

21.03-3 Agriculture

The Australian Bureau of Statistics figures support the importance of agricultural land use in the Yarra Ranges Shire with the 2010/11 census showing the total value of agricultural production in the Shire being $261M.

Agriculture land uses practiced by both farmers and lifestylers can be extensive (e.g. grazing, broadacre cropping, vineyards) and intensive (e.g. poultry, horticulture).

Intensive agriculture can be both soil based (e.g. market gardens) or non soil based (e.g. glasshouses, shed based poultry). The non soil based intensive agriculture has the potential to lead to a significant built environment acting contrary to the values of the Green Wedge. This is recognised in the existing Clause 53.01 where a permit is required to construct a horticultural structure where the proposed structures exceed specified ‘footprint’ thresholds. We consider it is essential that this requirement be maintained. Intensive animal husbandry is already subject to conditions in the GWZ and a prohibited use in the RCZ and GWAZ.

This clause does recognise that the demand for rural residential development in the Green Wedge has the potential to further erode the resource of productive agricultural land.

In the proposed Clause 21.03-3, the following policy statements are made for the three Green Wedge Zones:

  • Applying the Green Wedge Zone (GWZ) to rural areas that are predominantly including land suitable for productive agricultural and rural landscape living purposes.
  • Applying the Green Wedge A Zone (GWAZ) to areas predominantly used for rural residential purposes.
  • Applying the Rural Conservation Zone (RCZ) to rural areas that predominantly contain areas of privately owned bushland.

The new MSS policy should clearly reflect the purpose of the GWZ, RCZ and GWAZ to protect the values of the Green Wedge as stated in the planning provisions for each zone. The proposed new MSS policy clearly puts an emphasis of rural living that is contrary to the purposes of those zones.

Also in regard to protecting the values of the Green wedge from an increased built environment, we strongly submit that the existing controls on ‘Buildings or works in the green wedge areas should be maintained in relation to horticultural structures (Clause 53.01).

211.03-4 Rural industry

We support the thrust of this clause to accommodate within Green Wedge areas rural industries and other infrastructure that support the ongoing use of rural land for agriculture.

21.03-5 Tourism in the Green Wedge

As stated earlier we do not accept the land use categories of land use as proposed in Clause 21.03-2 and assert that these categories should be removed.

Commercial land uses should be located within the rural towns to increase the economic viability of the rural township

The current policy in Clause 21-05 Objective 4 ‘Rural Townships’ says to

“Restrict commercial and non agricultural activities along State Highways and other main rural and tourist road frontages between the towns, to ensure that productive agricultural land and environmental values are protected and rural landscapes are maintained.

and

Prevent ribbon development of commercial activities occurring along main or tourist roads.”

The proposed strategy 1.1 for tourism in appears to represent a major shift in this policy in rural areas.

21.03-6 Other Green Wedge land uses

The land uses allowed in the GWZ, RCZ and GWAZ are detailed in the planning provisions for each of those zones. It is difficult to see how and why proposed new policy can then limit the use of rural land for purposes other than those related to agriculture, rural industry, tourist orientated businesses or dwellings.

Equally the identification of education centres, golf courses and places of worship as preferably being located near the UBG to provide a transition between urban and rural areas seems to lack a rational basis, as the same could equally be said of tourist relate businesses function centres, exhibition centres, landscape gardening supplies, major sport and recreation facilities etc. All these uses are variously allowed on one or more of the Green Wedge zones.

There is no basis for providing a ‘so-called’ transition zone in the Green Wedges.

The requirement in the current Clause 53.01 which mandates that restaurants in GWZ, GWAZ and RCZ must be associated with tourist accommodation, tourist facility or established winery should be maintained. Also the current Clause 53.01 requirements for retail premises, accommodation, place of assembly and minor sports and recreation facilities to be associated with an agricultural activity being carried out on the land or provide recreation or tourist facilities in association with tourist accommodation.

21.03-7 Green Wedge Dwellings land uses and 21.03-8 and Green Wedge Subdivision

It is clearly contrary to the purpose of the Green Wedge Zone and Rural Conservation Zone to encourage residential development in the form of ‘rural landscape living’.

Planning Practice Notes 37 – Rural Residential Development directs that land for rural residential development should be included in the Low Density Residential Zone or the Rural Living Zone with only limited residential development allowed in other rural zones. The provisions of the Green Wedge A Zone do provide for the recognition and protection of the amenity of existing rural living areas.

This protection of the rural areas from urbanisation was clearly the intent of the existing tenement controls in the current Regional Strategy Plan. Deleting these tenement controls, which have strong recognition at VCAT, will open up the potential for hundreds of small vacant and heavily vegetated lots in the Dandenong Ranges to have dwellings established and therefore clear most of the vegetation and fragment agricultural land use.

A major purpose of these tenement controls is to consolidate lots within tenement holdings to tackle the issue of additional dwellings on small lots. The Regional Strategy Plan - Clause 53 is written to be very clear, with easy to measure and defend criteria, uses language that is clear such as ‘must’ or ‘must not’ etc. In particular tenement controls state that “Permit may only be granted to establish one dwelling.” when the criteria are met.

The Council proposes to delete the tenement provisions and replace them with new policy provisions in the Muncipal Strategic Statement and Local Policy.

The policy relating to urbanisation in the proposed MSS changes can be found in Clause 21.03-7 Green Wedge dwellings. This policy by way of introduction states that there are some 3000 existing vacant lots scattered throughout the Yarra Ranges Green Wedge and that that many lots are subject to significant development constraints and exposure to environment hazard, that landholders expect to be able to use these vacant lots for dwellings, proposals to replace existing dwellings with a new dwelling on a different lot can result in adverse impacts on productive agriculture or the environment and addition nonfarm dwellings can lead to conflicts with existing agriculture.

The clause does not acknowledge the current situation that most landholders do not expect to develop these lots. There has been some 35 years of successive planning schemes which effectively prohibited building on these lots. Many of the permits issued have required that lots are to be consolidated however clearly council has not audited or enforced those requirements. Council should move to consolidate these lots as required by existing permits or the tenement controls perhaps by offering some fee reduction for the consolidation process.

In urban area, we recognise “vacant lot” as a lot which does not have a house on it; a lot which is not being used. In contrast, in rural areas the ‘vacant’ lots are on paper only and are usually being used, or are suitable, for a rural land use such form of intensive or extensive commercial farming or lifestyler rural use.

The objective is stated as providing for additional dwellings that are compatible with the primary values of the Yarra Ranges Green Wedge. In the description of the strategies 1.1 and 1.2 focus of protection of Green Wedge values including environment, landscape and productive agriculture. However 1.3 proposes to provide for additional dwellings in ‘rural landscape areas’ that are described In Table 1 as areas where most lots are primarily used for residential purposes in a rural environment. In 1.4 it refers to opportunities for additional dwellings in rural residential areas to larger lots or through the restructure or consolidation of small lots in old subdivisions.

It then describes this policy being implemented through zones, overlays and local policy.

As argued previously, it is contrary to the purpose of the GWZ to provide for rural residential development. And applying the definition of ‘Rural Landscape Areas’ proposed in Table 1 such areas should be zoned GWAZ where specific provision has been made in the purpose of the zone for recognising and protecting the amenity of existing rural living areas.

The same argument applies to the Rural Conservation Zone where any facilitation of new rural living would be clearly contrary to the purpose of the zone.

We hold the position that consideration of new dwellings in the GWZ, RCZ and GWAZ should relate to only uses that are compatible with and support the primary values of the Yarra Ranges Green Wedge. These are uses that meet the rural purposes of each of the zones. Any new residential development should not be allowed in the GWZ or RCZ, except under very special circumstances. In the GWAZ residential development should only be supported in so far as it consistent with maintaining and protecting the amenity of existing residential development.

The land use that should be supported in the Green Wedges are only uses that protect and conserve green wedge land for its agricultural, environmental, historic, open and scenic rural landscapes, recreational and tourism opportunities and mineral and stone resources.

Proposed Clause 21.05 Built form

Clause 21.05-6 Rural landscapes

This Clause supports the purpose of the Green Wedge in relation to built form with its strategies to:

  • Encourage new development that is designed to reinforce the predominant rural landscape characteristics of its locality.
  • Ensure that new development is not an intrusive element in valued rural landscapes.
  • Provide for buildings and structures required for the sustainable operation of productive agricultural enterprises.
  • Discourage non farm related commercial buildings that adversely impact on valued rural landscapes

The strategy to ensure that new development respects the residential amenity of rural living areas is inconsistent with the purpose of the Green Wedge zones. This should refer only to the existing rural living areas as recognised only in the GWAZ.

Another issue is that confining the discouraging of non-farm related commercial buildings on valued rural landscapes is inconsistent with the planning provisions for the Green Wedge zones that fundamentally recognise all the Green Wedge as a valued rural landscape.

Proposed Clause 22.02 Dwellings in Green Wedge areas

The issues of concern to the Green Wedge Coalition in this Clause have been addressed in our response to the proposed changes to the MSS. But to reiterate the main points:

  • The primary values of Yarra Ranges Green Wedge should be consistent with the values as described in the purposes of the GWZ, GWAZ and RCZ. The primary values of the Yarra Ranges Green Wedge areas, as described in the proposed Clause 22.01-1, are consistent with these values but do need to acknowledge and encompass the wider scope of the purpose of planning provisions for the Green Wedge zones.
  • It is our contention that the proposed broad land use categories is inappropriate for reasons discussed in some detail previously in the submission.
  • The position that the rural landscape areas are not suited to productive agriculture is in our view incorrect and most definitely should not then imply a default position that they should be considered for residential use.
  • We do not agree with the definition of productive agriculture areas (Clause 22.02-4) and refer back to our previous discussion of the range of farm and rural lifestyler land uses that should do support the values of the Green Wedge.
  • We do not agree with the proposed policy for dwellings in rural landscape areas as it promotes residential land use, contrary to the planning provisions for the Green Wedge zones. Rural lifestyler land uses should be the focus and in this case might be dominated by we describe earlier as the Green lifestyler’.
  • We do not agree with the policy for dwellings on vacant lots in rural residential areas again for reasons elaborated earlier in this submission. There is provision in the planning policy in the Green Wedges only in the GWAZ where the purpose of that zone recognises the need to protect the amenity of existing rural living areas. Outside the existing rural living areas potential future land use and development needs to focus on the range of farm and rural lifestyler land uses that should do support the values of the Green Wedge

Summary

The Overview acknowledges that:

The approval of the Upper Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges Regional Strategy Plan in 1982 led to the introduction of a strict regime of subdivision control which limited the further subdivision of rural land.

And that

Despite the extent of earlier rural lot subdivision and fragmentation of large landholding, the Yarra Ranges Green Wedge has retained a strong rural character and still supports a significant agricultural sector.

We believe this confirms that the existing Regional Strategy Plan has proved to be an effective planning instrument and that any proposed changes to the planning scheme must maintain the substance of the RSP.

It is our contention that the proposed change to the Municipal Strategic Statement (MSS) as exhibited will enable future land use and development that will result in greatly increased residential development outside the UGB destroying the primary values that are fundamental to the future of the Yarra Ranges Green Wedge.

The new MSS policy should clearly reflect the purpose of the GWZ, RCZ and GWAZ to protect the values of the Green Wedge as stated in the planning provisions for each zone. The proposed new MSS policy clearly puts an emphasis of rural living that is contrary to the purposes of those zones.

The proposed MSS identifies three categories of land use and settlement, being:

  • Productive agricultural areas
  • Rural landscape areas
  • Rural residential areas

Both the ‘Rural landscape areas’ and ‘Rural residential areas’ are described in the proposed amendment as having most lots used for residential purposes in a rural or heavily treed setting. This identification of residential development as a major land use in the Green Wedges is totally contrary to the purpose of the both the GWZ and RCZ. It is inconsistent with the provisions for minimum lot sizes in GWZ and RCZ.

The MSS should instead identify and promote the forms of land use and development that will are consistent with the purposes of the Green Wedge zones encompassing commercial farming (full and part time) and the range of lifestyler uses.

The MSS should maintain the rural policy areas in the Regional Strategy Plan:

  • Intensive Agriculture (used extensively for intensive agricultural activities such as fruits and berries, nursery stock and vegetables)
  • Rural Landscape (range of more extensive farming uses, including part time farming)
  • Rural Conservation (mainly conservation values with a limited area for grazing, part time farming and timber harvesting).

Overall the Yarra Ranges planning scheme must continue to realise the strategic policies developed by the Victorian Government for the Yarra Ranges as adopted in the Upper Yarra Valley & Dandenong Ranges Regional Strategy Plan with the overall aim for the region to:

....contain urban development to a level compatible with the conservation of the Region’s rich environmental features and its high standards of amenity. The Regional Strategy Plan is directed towards defining, in a very positive manner, boundaries and principles upon which containment is to be handled. It includes specific policies which deal with the transition between the Region and metropolitan Melbourne.

The Green Wedge Coalition contends that the proposed amendment does not provide the protection of the rural values of the Yarra Ranges Green Wedges afforded by the Regional Strategy Plan.