WESTERN Victoria Nationals MP David O’Brien has defended his suggested review of planning rules for housing in farming areas, describing it more as fine-tuning to reinvigorate dwindling towns rather than a radical change.
“I’m certainly not looking at encouraging the chopping up of productive farmland, but to make it easier to put houses around existing townships,” Mr O’Brien said after touring the region with Planning Minister Matthew Guy this week.
“My suggested change does it better than existing planning rules because it maximises the use of farmland and minimises urban encroachment.”
He said some rural towns had dwindled to as low as 10 residents, but could be revived with new residents moving onto small allotments on the farming fringe.
Several south-west community leaders have interpreted his suggestions for cluster development as a threat to farming rights and an encouragement to start new communities away from existing townships.
Warrnambool City growth director Bill Millard said while it was important to provide diversity in housing types, any population growth must be targeted to existing cities and townships.
“We must make every effort to ensure population growth and settlement does not have an impact on our highly productive agricultural land,” Mr Millard said.
His comments were similar to Corangamite Shire mayor and Great South Coast group chairman Cr Chris O’Connor and Moyne Shire mayor James Purcell, who cautioned against further encroachment into farmland.
However, Mr O’Brien said his suggestion was not an attempt to break more farms up for housing.
“What I propose would allow rural living on smaller lot sizes than under existing rules restricting it to eight-hectare blocks in farmland zones,” he said.
“The minister was visiting Glenelg Shire and I took the opportunity to travel with him and take him on a drive to look at the geography.
“The area from Portland to Casterton is not much different to the hinterland near Melbourne.
“A number of towns could be reinvigorated.
“We want to create options for those who want to live there.
“The minister said he was happy to consider it.”
Mr O’Brien is seeking community feedback and hopes to put the suggestion to parliament next year.