Protecting Melbourne’s Green Wedges and agricultural land

The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) welcomes the opportunity to make suggestions for Industry / land holder viewpoints as to whether the Planning for Melbourne’s Green Wedges and agricultural land (GWAL) will be effective in ensuring a future for Melbourne’s food bowl.

For over 4 years VFF has had a well-developed policy position on the changes to the planning system that are required to support the retention and growth of agriculture in Victoria. Repeated failures to address or consider these matters, in response to submissions or in preparation of documents such as this, reinforces industry belief that there is an urban bias in the planning system that sees farming land as vacant, waiting for an urban use.

The VFF accepts that farming operates in a regulated space but that there is a need to ensure planning and environmental regulations, which are generally designed for urban scenarios, do not have a perverse or adverse outcome in relation to facilitating the ongoing and productive use of land for production of food and fibre.

The rural suite of zones, including green wedge zones, represented 62.86% of zoned land in Victoria (Februrary 2020). It is time for more than a throw away platitude to be made in respect to this land. It is time for all controls to properly consider how they may impact on zones that provide for Victorians most basic needs.

This response to the exhibited document will outline our concerns that there is a risk that the changes will actually exacerbate the rate of loss of productive agricultural land in the study area and wider. The VFF will reinforce previous evidence-based advice given to government, on what work is needed to ensure agriculture continues to be a key economic driver for Victoria. VFF has regularly called for system changes through its response to strategies, through ongoing advocacy and through budget and election cycle asks.

The simple test is: does it help grow the value of food and fibre production to the Victorian economy and ensure Victoria maintains food security when interstate and international trade and transport is disrupted?

This work has been consistent, tailored to the planning system, and based on an analysis of:

  • existing council and VCAT decisions, and
  • compliance with existing zone considerations, and
  • what is needed to return the clear decision- making support for agriculture that was removed by VC71 without explanation. This change has had many direct and consequential changes on the ability of Councils to have strong local policy considerations. The PPF translation process weakened local policy to reflect weak state policy.

The simplest and easiest thing that could be implemented to achieve the aim to protect agricultural land into the future is to have strong recognition of agriculture as something that is critical to the economy, and food security and needs to be protected in planning decisions.

While some content may, in the long term, assist in this aim, we believe that the document as a whole will exacerbate the rate of loss of productive agriculture from the study area, and may have negative outcomes for agriculture in the state – one of the key pillar of the Victorian economy.

We commend the government on its stated objective to protect Melbourne’s Food Bowl. While we don’t believe the document outlines the right approach, we have taken the time to say not only why we believe the document will increase loss, but also the reasons why we believe this to be true. We will propose what we believe to be some simple actions that overnight could address many of the problems facing the industry, and would help provide scheme content that allows advice to be prepared.

Planning for Melbourne’s Green Wedges and agricultural land is an opportunity for the government to be at the cutting edge. To show how to work with industry to vision future ag, and the planning system we need to get there. 2020 demonstrated that Victoria, in a crisis, can be self- sufficient – we had food security. That future is at risk unless the planning system gives serious consideration to industry knowledge on what is needed to evolve to changing climate and markets.

A range of medium to long term options are also outlined. These build upon advice given to DELWP Planning in regards to Native Vegetation, SMART Planning, Solar Energy facilities, Strategic Agricultural Land and prior to the 2018 Victorian State Election. At a minimum, DELWP should address the detailed planning system issues and considerations previously raised by the VFF, the key industry stakeholder, in preparing any new document from your terms of reference

This submission will mainly focus on the reasons why we believe the exhibited document will not be successful in addressing the issues facing agriculture. I doing so we will refer to:

  • reports relating to the VPP system and agriculture;
  • Parliamentary inquiries into agriculture in “suburban” areas;
  • VFF policy positions;
  • previous requests regarding changes needed to the VPP; and
  • records relating to the changes which removed agriculture from the economic development section of the VPPs.

This will then provide urban planners a better understanding of why the peak body for the agricultural sector in Victoria believes the document reinforces an urban bias which fails to understand or value agriculture and seeks to prevent the evolution required to remain competitive nationally and internationally.