Tweed council defends controversial rural land strategy
TWEED Shire Council has hit back against heavy criticism about its approach to a blueprint for the future of rural lands in the region.
The council came under fire from farmers and rural landholders who claim the controversial 'Rural Land Strategy' was adopted earlier this month without adequately taking community feedback into account.
The document, which was on public exhibition for 300 days, will serve as a guide for the rural areas of the shire, its action points are options to be explored in the future.
The council stands by the document and consultation process saying in a statement it will "enhance the character of the Tweed's rural areas, support agriculture and industry and create employment opportunities through innovation, value-adding and diversification".
President of the Tweed Rural Sustainability Alliance David Hammill said he did not believe the strategy provided a way forward for stakeholders.
After being left disillusioned with the community consultation, the Tweed farmer put 16 written questions about the RLS to the council in April but was unsatisfied with the responses.
This week, the council has also responded to a variety of stakeholder complaints put to them by the T weed Daily News.
One of the biggest gripes under the current strategy is the restricted provisions that mean not all farmers will be able to build a second dwelling for their family's other generations or to provide a second revenue stream.
However a council spokesman says residential housing is always encroaching on rural land.
The spokesman said overdevelopment of residential dwellings has significant impacts on the way the landscape looks, and its potential future uses.
In response to questions by the Daily, the Tweed council explained even if a farmer wanted to build a new house for the purposes of an Airbnb, it would be classified as a commercial operation, so the rules regarding tourism can't be applied as the government has defined the two things individually.
"Utilising a dwelling house for tourism is defined as short-term rental accommodation (Airbnb) and while it is widely understood to be for tourism the Government has not chosen that description instead describing it more akin to rental housing on a commercial basis. Because of this, it is not helpful to view housing and tourism as one and the same," the council spokesman said.
The council says the RLS is not a plan to govern residential housing in rural areas or development - it is designed to maintain a basic standard that is flexible.
One of the criticisms of the strategy was the inclusion of data from 1996 to 2019 with some landholders questioning the relevance of such old figures.
The council said it would be a mistake to view the data date range as too wide or assume the data had changed significantly over that time.
"It is grossly inaccurate to portray the RLS as being developed on outdated information," the spokesman said.
"It would in our opinion be erroneous to conclude that the date range of the data used … is too wide to be relevant for the purpose of making the RLS, because it would similarly be a mistake to assume that data had changed significantly over that time."
In response to claims studies show the Tweed's rural land is unproductive, council officers said the Soil Landscapes of the 1996 document 'Murwillumbah-Tweed Heads 1:100,000 Sheet map and report' was often misunderstood.
"According to the author the work is often misunderstood and incorrectly interpreted as describing the Tweed's rural lands as unproductive and not suitable for farming. An example of where this occurs is land within the flood plain as it is described as having a low soil classification when in reality it supports the Tweed's sugar cane industry," the spokesman said.
"It really is a question of matching the enterprise and expertise to the land."
Originally published as Tweed council defends controversial rural land strategy