Combined Tweed Rural Industries Association president Colin Brooks on his property just outside Murwillumbah. Photo: Scott Powick
Combined Tweed Rural Industries Association president Colin Brooks on his property just outside Murwillumbah. Photo: Scott Powick

Farmers claim rural strategy complaints fell on deaf ears

FARMERS have slammed the new Tweed Rural Land Strategy claiming the document will harm the thing it was aimed to protect.

That's just one of the complaints from the Combined Tweed Rural Industries Association president Colin Brooks who said even after a year of consultations, rural land holders have been ignored.

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.

 

Combined Tweed Rural Industries Association president Colin Brooks on his property just outside Murwillumbah. Photo: Scott Powick
Combined Tweed Rural Industries Association president Colin Brooks on his property just outside Murwillumbah. Photo: Scott Powick

 

However, Tweed Mayor Katie Milne is adamant the workshops, year of public exhibition and numerous drafts had produced a balanced document that was a compromise between rural aspirations and the environment.

Councillors Pryce Allsop, Warren Polglase and James Owen disagreed when they voted against adopting the controversial document last Thursday.

The strategy aims to serve as a blueprint for the rural areas of the shire going forward, its action points are options to be explored in the future given the appropriate studies and justifications take place.

Mr Brooks, a Kynnumboon cattle farmer, said the strategy was produced "to satisfy the bureaucratic requirements" without considering the reality of the shire's situation.

"Asking for submissions then ignoring them isn't consultation," he said.

"This document does not reflect ordinary farmers in the district right now."

The 73-year-old is a fourth-generation farmer, soon to have his grandchildren become the sixth generation, to grow up on the same land in the Tweed since 1900.

 

Combined Tweed Rural Industries Association president Colin Brooks on his property just outside Murwillumbah. Photo: Scott Powick
Combined Tweed Rural Industries Association president Colin Brooks on his property just outside Murwillumbah. Photo: Scott Powick

 

Mr Brooks said the more than 140 action points in the strategy, that council had touted as allowing more freedom to rural landholders, showed a "total lack of understanding" of the financials involved for most farming families.

One of the biggest gripes was the RLS's inconsistency with the surrounding five shires.

Mr Brooks said farmers wanted to be able to build secondary dwellings and dual occupancy (detached) on their land to allow for a secondary income from things like 'farm stay' accommodation or for family to return to the farm as the older generation retired.

The existing action point in the RLS outlines an investigation into whether secondary dwellings and dual occupancy (detached) were possible on rural properties of at least 10ha and 40ha respectively.

"Our neighbouring shires allow for that kind of thing on rural land … they don't put size limits on it," Mr Brooks said.

"We just wanted parity with that. But no matter how much evidence we produced it was ignored.

"It would allow a farmer to rent out a house, provide them with an extra income not tied to the ups and downs of farming.

"More importantly it would allow younger family members to stay living on the property to assist the ageing population to continue farming."

 

<<CLICK HERE TO READ ROLLING COVERAGE OF THE COUNCIL'S DECISION>>

 

However, if farmers wanted to liquefy their assets to diversify or try a new business venture they had to sell-off land in 40ha lots.

"Council can vary this - it's an area of land which is too small for viable farming in the Tweed anyway so why not allow to sell off smaller blocks? There is a trend of people who want only a few hectares for a rural lifestyle," he said.

Mr Brooks said one of the major arguments against having a second dwelling was it would ruin the scenery which was important to the region's tourism.

"We are not asking to be handed stuff," he said.

"We are quite prepared to be involved in trade offs to offset everything.

"This is more about ideologies than the realities of what is going on the shire."

Mr Brooks claimed studies done by the Department of Primary Industry and Agriculture in the past showed the bulk of Tweed's rural land was in the two worst classes for farming as they had both poor soil type and terrain.

"There are only a handful of farms in this district who can be economically viable on a stand-alone basis, meaning no one has to work off the farm," he said.

 

<<MAYOR KATIE MILNE: 'It was never meant to be a rural housing strategy'. >>

 

"The mistake everyone makes is green doesn't mean quality. A cow can have grass up to its stomach in part of Tweed and still lose weight if that's all its eating.

"You will find most vegetable growers and cane farmers in the region, there is still someone working off the farm to make the ends meet," he said.

"Just look at what happened with our region's farmers growing taro … you can't continue to grow things when you aren't covering the cost of production.

"(The council and councillors) don't want to understand. Too many people who have no practical knowledge of farming and utopian ideas about what they think farming should be.

"There are plenty of environmental things on my place but there has to be a balance and we not getting that balance in this RLS … For all practical purposes (the RLS) has done very little for farming and conservation."

Sadly, Mr Brooks doesn't hold out hope of things improving for farmers.

"I really think the only way of getting changes is change the makeup of the elected councillors which should have happened in September but now we are stuck with them until next year."

For more coverage, watch the Tweed Daily News' website.