Steve and I debated whether or not to share this post. We are not ones to dwell on negativity and certainly don’t want to add fuel to an already negative fire. However, we also said we would be honest and share all the ups and downs of our sustainable build. In the end Steve’s common sense approach prevailed – we share.
Be warned however – this post is a down.
We started looking at our block of land when Jedda was about six months old. Jedda is now almost three. At the time the block had already been for sale for many years. No one wanted it – probably for good reason.
The block is an abandoned sand mine. The mining licence was not renewed a few years back and the land has struggled to find a new purpose. The current owners have explained that apart from the neighbour’s cattle being let in to graze long grass (a fire hazard), the block hasn’t been used for agricultural purposes for over 30 years.
Aside from the noxious weeds and vermin that have made the block their home, the land has been largely left to its own devices. It is not that the current owners don’t care – rather they don’t have a use for it. There is no water connection (not even for stock and domestic purposes), power connection, gas connection or phone connection. This land will never be irrigated.
Here’s where things get complicated – so stick with me. The block is Zoned Farming. The Farming Zone provides for the use of agricultural land, encourages the retention of productive agricultural land, encourages the retention of employment and population and seeks to ensure that non-agricultural uses do not have adverse impacts. Applications to build on the block are also covered by Clause 22.01 (Agricultural Policy), which discourages new dwellings UNLESS it can be demonstrated that one is required for the agricultural use of the land.
In layman’s terms – you can’t build on land Zoned Farming that is less than 80 hectares in size unless you can prove with a solid Integrated Land Management Plan that a home is needed to support the planned agricultural business.
So what does all this mean for our block? Surrounding farmers have had many, many years to integrate this land into their current farming systems and have chosen not to, despite a fair purchase price. Families looking for a build block have not purchased the block because they would not be able to obtain a planning permit (due to its size – 9 hectares).
So sadly, the land continued to sit, unpurchased and unused.
This is where we come in. For a few years we had been looking for the right parcel of land to re-establish our organic fertiliser (vermicutlure) business on. The appropriate land would need to be Zoned Farming, dry (not irrigated) and around ten hectares. We don’t need or want a large parcel of land. Furthermore, we were hoping to find a piece of land that is relatively untouched and therefore a good candidate for future organic status.
Bingo! Match made in heaven. We bought that sucker straight away – subject to a planning permit for our business and residence of course.
We thought this was the perfect plan. The local council thought it wasn’t too bad either. The Shire’s Planning Department closely scrutinized our planning permit application and concluded that it fitted within council’s planning scheme and recommended a permit be granted. The proposal was further referred to five external authorities – all agreed this was a good proposal.
Councils Farming Advisory Committee reviewed the proposal and also recommended we be granted a permit based on our past previous agricultural business record. They also concluded our boutique industry was a legitimate form of agriculture, suitable for the site and that it was appropriate to have a dwelling to ensure the security of the business.
By this stage you would not be blamed for thinking we had this in the bag.
One neighbouring farmer has chosen to object to our proposal – which is in stark contrast to other surrounding farmers who have shown their support.
But alas – one objector is one objector too many.
Due to the fact that our planning permit application now had an objector the matter had to be put to a councilor vote. Our case was finally considered at a council meeting on December 16.
We won 6-2.
Now we pop the champagne right?
The objector now gets 21 days to decide if they would like to take the matter to the Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). In other words, they have a further 21 days to decide if they would like to continue to screw around with our life.
Again we wait. Waiting is ok. We don’t mind the waiting.
What is much more disappointing is the human side of this story. The objector was encouraged by council throughout this process to meet with us to discuss their concerns and find common ground. The objector refused.
Until our recent appearance at the council meeting the objector had no clue who we were or what kind of people we are. This goes against everything I have ever known and experience in rural communities. Since when did small communities become about flexing bureaucratic muscle and exploiting red tape rather than knowing and working with your neighbours?
This whole objection process has been deeply disappointing – not because it is life and death if we get this block (because it’s not), but because our proposal has no impact on the objectors business or life what so ever. There will be no smell from our property. The objector won’t be able to hear us. They won’t even be able to see us – unless they climb to the top of a hill, scramble through some trees and peer over a fence.
We have respect for their large traditional farming business and their right to farm. Being a small, niche agricultural business should not negate our relevancy.
And what about the land? If we are not successful in securing this block will it sit for another 30 years before it is healthy and productive again?
Our children and the objector’s children will (hopefully!) catch the school bus together every morning in the not too distant future. I hope ultimately they will get to know us and discover we’re actually pretty good blokes after all.
The 21 days expires in 24 hours. In 24 hours we will know the blocks fate.
Cross your fingers for us – and your toes – and your other body parts.
Blend it your way,